I have just finished the brilliant "Beirut fragments' by Jean Said Makdisi, which is a war memoir published in 1990 by Persea books.... Just as fresh, crisy, haunting, witty and brutal as the day it was published, the book zigs and zags through a war torn Beirut in all of its nightmarish scenes and glories, depicts the ferocious will to live that emanates from the surrounding cadavres. It is a shame that I have put the book away for so long, because every weekend, as I go up to our village house, I go to the upper floor pick a few books from the 800+ library and get them down to read them, and this one has been staying put for so long.
Maybe, just maybe, because as soon as I picked it up, I knew that Makdisi has managed what I could not have done. She had a book in her whereas I didn't. One of the most disillisioning moments of my life was where I came to terms with the fact that I had no book to produce. This will sound odd to those who know me as a writer (And a published writer at that). But you see, I recognize the fact that - in terms of lengthy narratives - I basically suck!
All I am able to produce is either tight-packed condensed articles, or story-telling through poetry, or at best - meager short stories - but a book there isn't. Yet, it my defence, the two other writers who - in my humble opinion - managed to display that spirit of Beirut in words were Makdissi and Rabih Alameddine whose "Koolaids" is truly an incredible journey in the heart of a Beirut which draws it parallels with the AIDS epidemic in the US.
Forget those corny qualifiers of "Chick lit" (Litterature by women) and "Gay litterature", a good book is a damn good book! And these two are incredible to get to know Beirut.
On all accounts, one of my dreams was to write that great post-war novel emanating from the city, but as my own book "Getting the news from poems" and the two above brilliant examples demonstrate, there is simply no way of writing good litterature about Beirut without plunging into the "vignettes" mode. Disconnected web of short things whose sum is more than that of the parts.
When I submitted an early version of Beirut/NTSC - the book, not the blog - to a famous litterary agent, her dry reply was: "This is good, but it doesn't have a beginning, middle or end." I snapped back and said: "I am writing about Beirut, a city that has no beginning, no middle and no end. I should be faithful to my subject matter."
Beirut zigs and zags and the more you try to hold it steady for a clearer image description, the more it fidgets and melts away.