Road to Chlifa Summary and Study Guide

Michele Marineau

Road to Chlifa

  • 29-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 3 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a college professor with a PhD in English from Brown
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Road to Chlifa Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 29-page guide for “Road to Chlifa” by Michele Marineau includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 3 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Legacies of Violence and The Heterogeneity of the Immigrant Experience.

Plot Summary

The Road to Chlifa is a 1992 novel by Michèle Marineau, originally published in French. The short novel unfolds in three sections, telling the story of protagonist Karim Nakad’s journey from Beirut to Chlifa, Lebanon,and, finally, to Montreal. The novel is set during the height of the Lebanese Civil War. Through this progression, it confronts issues of violence and warfare, immigration and racism, and the power of storytelling.

Section One, narrated from the perspective of an anonymous schoolmate of Karim’s,as well as through Karim’s diary entries, takes place in Montreal in January-February 1990. Section Two, narrated from a third-person omniscient perspective, covers events in Lebanon in June 1989. Section Three returns to Karim’s diaries and the anonymous narrator in February-May 1990. These diverse narrative perspectives contrast Karim’s experience with that of his Canadian classmates.

The novel begins in Montreal, with Karim’s classmate’s perspective, giving us a view of Karim from the outside. In French class, he excites the interest of girls, and the boys’ displeasure at this is tinged with racism. From Karim’s diary entries, however, we learn that the attention of these classmates is unwelcome; he feels like a “carnival freak” (13). He is the subject of much gossip and speculation, especially because he is spotted with a baby, who classmates assume is his son.

According to the anonymous narrator, Karim’s entrance disrupts the social balance of the school, as boys become jealous of the female attention he receives. The situation escalates on a class ski trip, during which a number of boys grope a young Asian immigrant, My-Lan. Karim, hearing her cries, happens upon the scene and begins to hit the perpetrator, Dave. Dave uses a knife to defend himself, leading to Karim’s hospitalization.

The second section of the book flashes back to Karim’s life in Lebanon, and provides a narrative of the events leading up to his immigration to Montreal. This section employs third-person narration, and details the everyday warfare and bombing that marked Karim’s life, as wellas the conflict’s escalation just as his parents and brothers leave on a trip to visit his grandmother in Montreal. On his own in Beirut, Karim and his friend, Béchir, pass the time by studying for their baccalaureate exam, and by visiting Karim’s crush, Nada.

As the violence escalates in the city, Béchir’s family leaves. Karim stays out of a sense that it would be cowardly to go, as well as because of his continuing infatuation with Nada. However, one day, on walking to her house, Karim discovers it in ruins. There, he meets Nada’s younger sister, Maha, and her baby brother, Jad. Maha, afraid of being separated from Jad, plans to journey to Chlifa, where her childhood nanny lives. Karim agrees to accompany them on their journey.

With the assistance of his father’s friend,Antoine Milad, Karim, along with Maha and Jad,escapes the city and begins to walk through the wilderness outside of Beirut, amidst bombs and warfare. The three feel like tourists in their own country, and enjoy the peace of nature on their trek. Maha, just twelve, fascinates Karim with her intelligence and wit. However, when he finds himself groping her breasts in his sleep, he becomes ashamed. He takes a walk to get away from her and collect his thoughts.

While Karim scales a mountain, Maha is raped and killed. Karim returns to find her body, and,with Jad, he continues the journey to Chlifa, where Maha is buried as a martyr. He decides to bring Jad with him to Montreal.

In the final section of the book, we return to Montreal, where Karim recovers. Through daily visits from My-Lan, as well as reflection on his experience with Maha in Lebanon, Karim lets go of his pain, writing, “I choose to live because Maha and Nada are dead…I choose to live so their deaths won’t be in vain, so they won’t be forgotten” (137). The book concludes with a letter to Béchir, in which Karim lists twenty-one things he likes about life in Montreal, demonstrating his first steps towards accepting his new life.

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