Alia Yunis on love stories … from Wuthering Heights to Twilight

Alia Yunis’s debut novel, The Night Counter, unravels four generations of family secrets, touching on the histories of both the United States and the Middle East over the last one hundred years. The Night Counter is the heart-warming story of a family just as crazy as yours.

The Boston Globe called The Night Counter “wonderfully imaginative … poignant, hilarious … the branches of this family tree support four generations of achievement, assimilation, disappointment, and dysfunction … their stories form an affectionate, amusing, intensely human portrait of one family.”

Born in Chicago, Alia Yunis is a PEN Emerging Voices Fellow. She has worked as a journalist and filmmaker in several countries. She grew up in the Midwest, particularly the Twin Cities, and in Beirut during the civil war, graduating from high school in Athens, Greece. She completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Minnesota and American University in Washington, DC.

Alia teaches film and television at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi.

Thank you, Alia, for stopping by the Debutante Ball!

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Love Notes

In The Night Counter, the immortal Scheherazade, who has spent the last 992 nights coaxing Fatima to tell her a love story of her life, says, “No one could live as long as you without a love story to sustain her, no matter how brief.’’

I believe those words. Love stories are the bread and butter of our souls. However, they are also often the fiction we create, not just in writing but in our real lives. That’s not to say love is fiction, but rather the way we romance it is. Most of our nonfiction lives are spent figuring out what love isn’t, because it runs so contrary to what fiction has told us it is — fiction most of us read as required reading in high school or to go to sleep as children.

Who amongst can’t claim to have fantasized or lived out, for better or worse, Romeo and Juliet, in which you loved someone all the more for the disapproval of others (but of course nobody died in the end), or Cinderella, in which a man saved you from the drudgery of your life (but didn’t wear tights), or Wuthering Heights, in which we thought our love would save someone’s abusive, brooding soul from his or her demons (including alcohol, drugs and mental illness). Enraptured in the moment, we couldn’t see reality for the fiction. Madame Bovary warned us all of the price we could pay for being desperate enough to hunt for the love of romance novels. Respectable fiction, not romance novels, taught us love is sudden and initially tortured, and those are the stories that the young still want to hear, as witnessed by the success of the Twilight series.

However, with maturity reality overtakes fiction. I’m at the age where I have more friends getting divorced than married. It is my friends who understood classical literature as fiction who are still married, who understood in the beginning that happy endings are not finite but fluid and have little to do with the chemistry of old novels. I watch the different reactions to the dissolution of marriages: Women seem to embrace it as freedom, perhaps freedom to go find her hero, although they no longer imagine him as they did before; men seem to stubbornly want to stay with this person who has told him she doesn’t love him because they don’t want to break up the order of their world, the way things are supposed to be — happy father, mother, children, a fiction reality created by man’s favorite medium, television.

But more than in the past, there is hope for first and second chances at true love in both contemporary literature and real life — no longer are single, divorced or widowed women considered failures, or second marriages a business arrangement. The fantasies of romance novels and teen fiction aside, there are realistic, tarnished as they may be, heroes and heroines in the novels of Jodi Piccoult, Richard Russo, and so many others. As for reality, I used to think love, unlike other forms of wealth, was invisible, but there is plenty to see just outside your window, including the woman I am now looking at helping her frail, elderly husband to the car. Fatima, perhaps thinking Scheherazade is awaiting a more sweeping love story, might not see that, but I do more and more, whether my nose is in a book or my eyes are looking around.

~Alia Yunis

8 Replies to “Alia Yunis on love stories … from Wuthering Heights to Twilight”

  1. I love how you say “happy endings are not finite but fluid” — so true! I think our ideas about love change as we change, as our truths change.

    And Emily, Alia’s book is just wonderful. I really enjoyed it and I’ve been recommending it to everybody.

  2. “It is my friends who understood classical literature as fiction who are still married..”

    Very interesting idea.

    I’ve heard people say that the hero in fiction isn’t what we are, but what we could be. Something we can strive for, the best of what happens when our status quo is snapped, we decide to be a hero, and the journey begins.

    And maybe first love is the break in status quo…but then you have to decide to be a hero maybe, and the trick is to keep the journey going, to keep moving, growing, which is the hard part. The happy ending is the return to status quo, which is where the story ends in books. In real life, love requires us to keep the story going indefinitely, it requires us to be life-long heroes, eternal storytellers.

  3. PS: I read Madame Bovary as a high school freshman. I think it was one of the first books that really got me thinking about romantic love, and what I expect of it, in an intellectual way. The second was Ethan Frome.

  4. Thanks for joining us on The Debutante Ball! And I have to say that is a stunning cover. It’s really eye catching. The book sounds great too. I’ll check into it! Thanks again!

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