The narrator of Always Coca-Cola, Abeer Ward (fragrant rose, in Arabic), daughter of a conservative family, admits wryly that her name is also the name of her father’s flower shop. Abeer’s bedroom window is filled by a view of a Coca-Cola sign featuring the image of her sexually adventurous friend, Jana. From the novel’s opening paragraph—“When my mother was pregnant with me, she had only one craving. That craving was for Coca-Cola”—first-time novelist Alexandra Chreiteh asks us to see, with wonder, humor, and dismay, how inextricably confused naming and desire, identity and branding are. The names—and the novel’s edgy, cynical humor—might be recognizable across languages, but Chreiteh’s novel is first and foremost an exploration of a specific Lebanese milieu. Critics in Lebanon have called the novel “an electric shock.”
Alexandra Chreiteh is a Lebanese novelist, whose first novel Always Coca-Cola was translated into English and German. She is currently pursuing a PhD in comparative literature at Yale University and also working on her third novel. Michelle Hartman is Associate Professor of Arabic Literature at the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill and a literary translator from Arabic and French into English. She has translated Arabic novels by Muhammad Kamil al-Khatib, Just Like a River, Iman Humaydan, Other Lives and Wild Mulberries, and Alexandra Chreiteh’s first novel, Always Coca-Cola. She has also translated a collection of Arabic and French language short stories by Lebanese authors, Beirut Noir.