Limbo Beirut

Hilal Chouman, trans. from the Arabic by Anna Ziajka Stanton. Univ. of Texas, $16 trade paper (250p) ISBN 978-1-4773-1005-2
Chouman’s carefully constructed novel, the first of his works to be translated into English, tracks the confluence of a handful of emotional and anxious Beirutis amid the violent clashes that rattled the city in 2008. Unable to sleep, an artist leaves his dreaming lover to graffiti faces “without chins or mouths.” He is joined on the street by a medical intern who was recently dumped by his fiancée. An ersatz militiaman attempts to confront the duo, but is struck dead by a car before he can act. The culprit is a would-be writer, desperate after his Japanese wife abandons him for home. “Do I have a story?” he muses, “and how can someone who doesn’t have—at minimum—even one story write a novel?” The five narratives don’t exactly fit together, and the best way to read the book is as five distinct stories. The doctor wonders how he became “suddenly a witness to the lives of all these people” and the broader effort to conflate connection (however fleeting) with profundity strikes a false note. Still, Chouman is a sharp, insightful writer (“Beirut is a deep valley... wholly below us, wholly remote”) deftly tracking his artist, who wanders without a definite plan, stopping only to notice the “rays of light” that are “increasing and widening shyly.” (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/25/2016
Release date: 08/01/2016
Open Ebook - 220 pages - 978-1-4773-1007-6
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