cover image Beirut 2020: Diary of the Collapse

Beirut 2020: Diary of the Collapse

Charif Majdalani, trans. from the French by Ruth Diver. Other Press, $13.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-63542-178-1

Novelist Majdalani (Moving the Palace) reflects in this penetrating account on the factors that led up to the August 2020 explosion at the Port of Beirut that killed 200 people and destroyed 200,000 homes and hundreds of historic sites. He sketches Lebanon’s history from the drawing of its modern borders in 1920, through the three decades of “exceptional cultural and economic vitality” that followed independence from France in 1945, to the 1975–1990 civil war between Muslim and Christian groups that established “corruption as a system of government and a way of life,” to the collapse of the banking system in the fall of 2019. Majdalani also details electricity shortages, the absurd gap between black market and official currency exchange rates, and Syrian refugees clogging traffic lanes to beg for diapers for their children. These snapshots of societal dysfunction culminate in the explosion of a port warehouse containing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which Majdalani suggests Hezbollah had been using since 2014 “for military purposes.” The author’s frustration is palpable, but he takes heart in the “spontaneous movement” of young activists who took to the streets to clear away rubble and “fight against the ruling class.” The result is a razor-sharp reckoning with a tragedy decades in the making. (Aug.)