A serial rapist meets a torturing interrogator in wartime Lebanon. Yet he soon realizes that the ultimate source of pain is his own head, which can cause a much greater suffering than the devices that his prisoners used to inflict pain on him. Elias Khoury's Yalo is a novel that is heavy on passion, blood, and violence. Definitely not for the squeamish reader.
At the outset, we are introduced to Daniel, but more fondly known as Yalo. We soon learn that he is a prisoner, he was arrested not so long ago, and he is being held in a cell somewhere in Lebanon. The interrogators are trying to fish out a confession from him, and since he wouldn't cough up, they resort to torture. Torture in this case involves feral cats, chairs, bottles shoved in one's rectum, and even psychological torture, as reflected in the episodes when Yalo is made to write his life story, as his "survival" depends on it.
So, why would one want to read Yalo? Well, I think the experience of reading this novel should be less about wanting to know what happens in the end , but more about what happens as we head to the end. The journey of reading this book is an end in itself. How?
First, this novel provides a great way to know how the mind deals with pain. There is a great difference between the mental state of Yalo when we first met him at the outset, and at the dual-bipolar Yalo that we encounter at the end of the novel. This difference is reflected in the way the narrative is structured: at the outset, in which an unknown third-person is narrating Yalo's story. But near the end, Daniel becomes Yalo's alter ego and narrates the story as if he is looking at Yalo (himself) from the outside. In other words, Yalo to some degree, has an out-of-body experience.
Additionally, gives a great description on the psychology of torture. The story happens within a short period of time: Yalo isn't incarcerated in that Lebanese prison for years. However, due to the things that were done to him (which I won't elaborate), the notion of time for Yalo is blurred, making what for us is an hour seem like an eternity. This novel does a good job in providing a window to the mind of the tormented, and leaves the reader deep in thought, wondering why some humans can be capable of doing these horrendous things to other humans.