This is the story of Aaliya Sobhi, a 70-something, divorced, childless, single woman living in Beirut. The narrative unfolds over a matter of 2-3 days in the present. The rest of her life story is revealed in flashbacks triggered either by present-day events or, in Proustian fashion, by various physical sensations and visual reminders. The first-person voice often addresses the readers directly which, in less skillful hands, could have been distracting but, here, manages to bring us closer to the protagonist.
At the beginning of each new year, we, too, might have our own rituals and traditions that help us to look ahead to quietly articulate a few desires, hopes, wishes to ourselves and, perhaps, our loved ones. For some, this may be a quiet contemplation while, for others, this might involve something more elaborate like the above Scottish tradition. Then, there are some, for whom the thoughts of beginning again are really more like past regrets clothed as future wishes - things they wish they could undo or redo. We all have these thoughts. And, this is the crux of today's poem. Yet, for all that sadness, it is a lovely poem because it paints pictures of possibilities.
From the very start, this story just sings off the pages. Although book-ended with memories of Eugenio Castillo, first as a young boy and then as a grown man, this is the story of his uncle and his father, the two Cuban immigrant brothers, Cesar and Nestor Castillo, who leave their homeland in the 50s to come to New York just when the Afro-Cuban and Latin music scene is taking off.