Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Only Cafe by Linden MacIntyre

I really enjoyed this book, though I must confess I'm not sure I followed everything that happened in the story as it went back and forth in time and perspective.

Pierre Cormier is a refugee from Lebanon who did not speak about his past to either of his wives or the son of his first marriage, Cyril.  When he arrives in Canada he follows a priest to Cape Breton and there he graduates (late) from high school and marries his first wife.  He eventually becomes a high powered lawyer for a mining company in Toronto.  He leaves his first wife when Cyril is twelve and marries a woman many years his junior (only four years older than his son).

When Cyril is a teenager, Pierre becomes embroiled in a corporate scandal, is diagnosed with cancer and skulks off to his boat in Cape Breton planning to get out of the limelight for a while.  Instead his boat explodes and he disappears.  Five years later a bone fragment is found in the ocean and he is officially declared dead.

At the reading of the will Cyril, his mother and his father's second wife learn that instead of a funeral Pierre requested a roast at a bar he frequented anyone's knowledge, the Only Cafe.  He also sets out a guest list which includes Ari, an Israeli who he met at the bar who may or may not have known his father in Lebanon.  Curious Cyril visits the bar and meets Ari, hoping he will shed light on his father's past.  Instead he seems to fall into a bigger mystery.

Through Cyril's digging (both to learn about his father and as a journalism intern looking into terrorism) and alternating chapters from Pierre's perspective (as he writes about his past on the boat) we learn of how Pierre was involved in the civil war in Lebanon, including what role he played in the slaughter at Sabra and Shatila.  We are also given clues about how Ari may have been involved, though Ari denies it all (at least until the end, though even then it is never clear whether his "confessions" were truthful or smoke screens).  We also learn about Pierre's last days on the boat and are left wondering whether he is actually dead, if so, whether he took his own life and whether Ari somehow played a role.  Finally we learn a bit about the work scandal Pierre was involved in and why it hit him so hard given his past.

There are also a few interesting side characters - Aggie, Cyril's mother, Lois, Pierre's second wife, Cyril's colleagues, Suzanne and Nader, and an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD who befriends Pierre while he is out on his boat.

I recommend reading this book despite some of the confusion I still suffer from (which I think may be intentional on the author's part).  I was also concerned it would turn into a political piece given the author's journalism background, but I did not find the political spin significant enough to detract from the story-telling.

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