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September 12, 2018

Evan Fallenberg's Playlist for His Novel "The Parting Gift"

The Parting Gift

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Evan Fallenberg's novel The Parting Gift is complex and rewarding.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Magnetic…a complicated study of the ways in which religious heritage—from codes of honor to familial expectations—interacts with business and acceptance, family and lovers, and self-realization…A beautiful novel whose only fault is ending too soon."

In his own words, here is Evan Fallenberg's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Parting Gift:

Before I had a title for this novel, the writing I did went into a file called A Novel of Four Men. And while there are women in this book, it is the lives of several men in the context of a particular culture that dominate the book.

These men live, love and work in the same landscape, but due to their different backgrounds – religious, ethnic, cultural – they live almost parallel lives until circumstances throw them together. The very name they call the place that they co-inhabit is a question of who they are and what their angle is: Israel? Palestine? So it should come as no surprise that their cultural references do not overlap either.

Their own personal playlists are a case in point. Uzi, the forty-year-old tough-guy Jewish Israeli farmer, will favor Hebrew ballads and hits with a few English or American pop tunes from his teen years; Ibrahim, an Arab Muslim in his early twenties raised in the Israeli city of Acre, will listen to popular songs in Arabic from Lebanon or Egypt, along with some of the Arabic-language classics of earlier generations; the unnamed Narrator, a recent gay American immigrant to Israel in his late twenties, has his own Anglocentric choices that reflect his LA upbringing in the early years of the twenty-first century. Only Ziad does not get his own playlist, which seems to me a fitting representation of yet another of the deprivations he would experience as an uneducated Arab Muslim in the Occupied Territories.

The following are playlists for Uzi, Ibrahim and the Narrator, with huge thanks to Mahran Abu Stelly, Stav Levin and Zeev Duckworth for their help.

Uzi does not live with music: he doesn’t walk around with tunes in his head, doesn’t own a pair of earphones, wouldn’t have a clue what to answer if someone asked him what his favorite song was. But in elementary school he had a teacher who taught the children songs that have stayed with him for life, songs meant to inculcate Jewish Israeli children with a love of the land of Israel. So, for example, Psalm 114, When Israel Came out of Egypt…the Mountains Leaped Like Rams, here performed by Yehoram Gaon, is a hit with him, along with traditional holiday songs and songs based on the poetry of the great poets of the first modern waves of immigration to Israel, like Nahman Bialik and Leah Goldberg.

As a young teen, Uzi would have graduated to the jaunty militaristic tune Kol Hakavod (All the Honor) by Yehoram Gaon and certainly Arik Einstein’s Amru Lo (They Told Him), and he’d have passed through a phase of synthetic pop music from Europe with songs like Enola Gay by OMD and Take on Me by A-ha. Like many Israeli Jews of his generation, he can be tempted to take part in a group singalong.

Ibrahim is a son of Akka (Acre) on the north coast of Israel, an ancient town most recently controlled by Crusaders and Ottomans and now an Arab Muslim town of stone alleyways. Like his town, he is a combination of the old and the new. So on the one hand, like his parents he will love the grandes dames of Middle Eastern music and their most beloved songs – Umm Kultum’s Enta Omry (You Are My Life) and Fairouz (in the morning only, Fairouz is for mornings) singing Kifak Enta (How Are You) – but on the other hand he will be a fan of George Wassouf, Dawara El Ayam (The Turning of the Days), especially the lyric about going out to attain what you desire instead of expecting it to appear. And he loves Ila Kol Elli Bihebbouni (To Those Who Love Me) by Lebanese superstar Elissa. For sheer fun and pleasure, he can’t resist 3 Dakat (3 Beats) by Abu and Yousra. And finally, how could he not be partial to Waseem Akar’s Palestinian rap song Akka #1, the lyrics of which are nothing but a collection of hundreds of nicknames of the residents of Akka/Acre?

It’s a point of pride for the Narrator to be avant garde, the one to watch, so his music is anything but standard taste. For his Angelino side and for swaggering male appeal, there’s Mickey Avalon’s Mr. Right. For dancing around Uzi’s house when no one is home, he goes for Let’s Have a Kiki by Scissor Sisters. But his time with Uzi is all about Uzi, and the moods he goes through when with him, like blunt sexual attraction: Skin by Rihanna; what feels like love: Back to You, Selena Gomez; sex and more sex, not all of it nice: Daddy, by Sakima; smitten: Don't Wait, Mapei, Chance the Rapper & the Social Experiment; anger: Said the Spider to the Fly, the pAper chAse, which Uzi would never sit still to watch with him; and despair and accusation: You Lost Me by Christina Aguilera. The Narrator’s seductive letter to Adam might just fit nicely with May I Have This Dance - Francis and the Lights, featuring Chance the Rapper.

These men prove that, no matter what our culture, we are what we listen to.

Evan Fallenberg and The Parting Gift links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review

also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
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my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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