Friday, 8 February 2013

Book Post - Which Beirut Is Beirut Set In?

Cafés in downtown Beirut
Cafés in downtown Beirut (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It's an interesting conundrum. I thought I had written a novel set, at least in the parts of the book that aren't racing across Europe, in modern Beirut.

In fact, Beirut - An Explosive Thriller celebrates a city I have huge time for, even as it recognises that very city is by far from being a perfect place. Beirut, as so much in life, is like a rotten mackerel in the moonlight - it both shines and stinks.

I happen to agree with Lebanese blogger Jad Aoun and his spirited campaign to award a 'looks like Beirut' certificate to people who persist on using that amazingly outdated and lazy simile. His Lebanon - Under Rug Swept blog is linked here - pop over and take a look, it's a hoot. The civil war is long past us and Lebanon is not a country at war. And yet neither is it a stable place right now, with the awful conflict in Syria on its very borders and its own tensions only barely kept at bay.

Gouraud’s bars, as ever, welcomed those who wanted to party and forget the woes of a world where violence and conflict were a distant memory but a constant worry. Orphaned by Belfast’s troubles, Lynch appreciated Beirut’s fragile peace and sectarian divides, the hot embers under the white ash on the surface of a fire that looked, to the casual observer, as if it had gone out. Lynch scowled as he passed a poster carrying Michel Freij’s smiling face, encircled in strong black script: ‘One Leader. One Lebanon.’
From Beirut - An Explosive Thriller

I wrote over on the Beirut The Book website about how annoying I found it when one of London's Fine Editors rejected Beirut with a comment about the book being set in a war torn country. I wanted my Beirut to reflect the city I enjoy so much, as I said over on the website, "Beirut today is a complex city, sexy and shabby, filled with promise and hopeless, vibrant and drab, it rarely fails to entertain and challenge. Plagued by power cuts, creaking infrastructure and endemic corruption, Beirut is full of life, creativity and celebration – even if that celebration sometimes takes on a brittle, desperate air."

So I was slightly taken aback when the book attracted a review on that said, "Olives did a great job of putting you in the middle of Palestinian/Israeli conflict with all its nuances, and Beirut continues the tradition by putting you in the middle of the current sectarian conflict in Lebanon...except it doesn't. As someone familiar with the Lebanese culture, I would argue that the conflicts in the book were far more accurate in the 80s as opposed to the current day. It was a fun read (thus the four stars), but it didn't quite match the Beirut I know."

Yet on Goodreads, one Lebanese reviewer says, "Insightful understanding of the Middle East and Beirut in particular, with details of everyday life only someone very familiar with the country can highlight."

Magda Abu-Fadil (a highly respected Lebanese journalist) reviewed the book in the Huffington Post with this to say, "The author has an uncanny understanding of the country's dynamics and power plays between the belligerent factions, post-civil war of 1975-1990.... Beirut is a gripping, fast-paced exciting book that may well jar Lebanese and others familiar with the city and its heavy legacy. But it's a must read."

Is Beirut - An Explosive Thriller reflective of modern Beirut? I had thought so, particularly in light of my hangup about the city being portrayed as still in the grip of that awful civil war. But it appears to be a subject of debate - which Beirut is portrayed in Beirut?

You never know. If this develops into a ding-dong, I might even sell a couple of books! Beirut has remained controversy-free so far, unlike Libro Non Grata novel Olives. And as Albawaba pointed out in this here article, there's nothing like the sniff of a whiff of controversy!

BY THE WAY if you'd like to get a FREE copy of Olives - A Violent Romance as an ebook, just sign up to the emailer on the top right of this page and get inside track articles, giveaways, event info, updates and other occasional bits and bobs from scandalous me...
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1 comment:

Lizzie English said...

It's a great shame that Beirut gets such a bad press, we visited last year in April and it's a stunning city. The newly renovated part if beautiful and I thought was done in a sympathetic way. Lovely cafes and bars to sit in and even a mini shopping mall. Walking around the old and admittedly downrun part of Beirut reminded me so much of Sharjah and Dubai in the old days (early 80's!) and the people are always welcoming. It's great shame Lebanon is caught in this dreadful and ongoing political situation, but it is still worth visiting for a few days and recommend it to anyone from here, it's only a couple hours flight time.

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