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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Always Coca-Cola

Alexandra Chreiteh

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To purchase Always Coca-Cola

Title: Always Coca-Cola
Author: Alexandra Chreiteh
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 119 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Always Coca-Cola - US
Always Coca-Cola - UK
Always Coca-Cola - Canada
Always Coca-Cola - India
  • Arabic title: دايما كوكاكولا
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Michelle Hartman

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Our Assessment:

B : some solid foundations, but remains underdeveloped

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 23/1/2012 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Chreiteh’s character development and figurative language is strong, and there are moments of humor, but this debut -- like its narrator -- is not quite ready to face the world. Pacing issues persist" - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Always Coca-Cola is narrated by Abeer Ward, a student at Lebanese American University in Beirut (author Chreiteh's alma mater). She has two close friends, Yana and Yasmine. Yana is a Romanian model -- featured on a huge Coca-Cola billboard -- who married a Lebanese man but gave up on the marriage and now has a boyfriend who is a manager at the local Coca-Cola factory. Yasmine is obsessed with boxing, training so hard that, as Ameer notes: "Her body doesn't contain even one ounce of femininity"; even though she is a close friend, Ameer admits to being: "embarrassed to be seen too much with her", worried that people will think she is similarly eccentric (and unfeminine ...).
       Ameer worries a lot about appearances and what people will think. Traditional values are still important to her -- and she is concerned about being tainted by a 'guilt by association' if she is caught in certain circumstances. She can't bring herself to go along with her friends to buy a pregnancy test, for example, worried that the news of what she had done would get back to her father, who would immediately infer that if she hangs out in such loose company (with women who need pregnancy tests) she must be similarly loose -- and when Yana turns out to be pregnant she pretends to have broken with her friend so her family won't think she associates with such a woman. Ameer is desperate to ensure that everyone understand that she's a good, proper girl:

In fact, I'm 100% virgin, 100% pure, 100% chaste ... with no additives! And with a lot, really a lot, of preservatives!
       Always Coca-Cola presents many of the common issues young women have to deal with, with a greater spread of extremes than usual. Yana, the foreign influence, lives a very free life. She was the one who decided to divorce her husband, she literally exposes herself as a model (though in one amusing scene her picture on the huge Coca-Cola sign is painted black overnight, leaving her looking like she is wearing a black abaya), and she also always has the option of a tactical retreat from this world, as she can return to her native Romania. Ameer is the far more conservative good girl, relatively comfortable in her traditional role, but does bristle at some things -- annoyed, for example, that she shares her name (meaning 'Fragrant Rose') with the family shop.
       Bodily functions -- and their inconvenience -- feature prominently in Always Coca-Cola, from periods and how to deal with them to one scene where Ameer has to go to the bathroom very badly; maintaining appearances remains a significant concern, complicating these matters. (There's also a lengthy, hair-raising complete-body-waxing scene.)
       Pregnancy is a more serious concern, as two of the three women face the possibility that they might be pregnant. Here Chreiteh seems a bit overwhelmed by her material, unable (or unwilling) to delve deeply enough into these in this short novel. Yana's pregnancy is the more straightforward one, complicating her life -- she can't get any more modeling work while pregnant, for example -- and making for stark choices, but ones she is able to resolve relatively easily.
       The other pregnancy-scare presents a more complicated situation, and Chreiteh does not convincingly deal with all the ramifications of how it comes about. As just one more storyline in the novel, its impact feels oddly muted; possibly that was Chreiteh's intent, as she packs a surprisingly large number of variations on these themes (there's also a cousin (who, at age thirty, is worryingly near to being over the hill) who is about to get married but finds out her "knight in shining armor" isn't quite what she had believed) into the novel. Nevertheless, it's hard not to think that there should be more to this, in particular.
       Beginning with its title -- combining two brand names -- Always Coca-Cola has a somewhat artificial, constructed feel to it, as if Chreiteh carefully selected pieces to deal with these specific issues. The lack of subtlety doesn't help: Coca-Cola crops up (too) repeatedly, for example, and the focus on, for example, Ameer's period, can get to be a bit much. The resolutions are also a bit simple and tidy. Nevertheless, in many of the details and scenes, Chreiteh does present a variety of issues well -- though a more patient, fuller exposition would have served the material well.
       Also welcome is the Translator's Afterword, in which Michelle Hartman discusses her translation at some length, with a focus on the process -- a fascinating glimpse into how and why some choices are made.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 February 2012

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Always Coca-Cola: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Arabic literature

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About the Author:

       Lebanese author Alexandra Chreiteh (ألكسندرا شريتح) is studying at Yale.

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