Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Twafiq Yusuf Awwad: The "things" that were being milled in Beirut


I am often asked what books one has to read to know Beirut. My top three are (in no perticlar order): "Koolaids" by Rabih Alameddine, "Beirut, fragments" by Jean Said Makdissi and (though I have never read the English version) "Death in Beirut" by Tawfiq Yusuf `Awwad. To be perfectly honest, I think the English title of the translation is pretty corny, because the Arabic title is "the mills of Beirut" referring to a particular line where a character says "these are the mills of Beirut" and the other replies "and there is nothing being milled". But there were a lot of "things" being milled, not the least of whom were Tamima Nassour, Zannoub Ibrahim, Miss Mary Abi Khalil, Rose El Khoury..
Never mind the official synopsis of the book, the story and the incidents are merely a backdrop in the post-1967 war Lebanon, in the conditions or women (the as much as now), about the Palestinian problem and most importantly in the effect it would have on a fragile Lebanon, on the male identity, and all the lurking of the Lebanese scene of sex, debauchery and double standards. The books was first published in 1973, two years before the official onset of the war, but by then Beirut was looking for an excuse to boil and explode.
When I heard the news that the author was killed in 1989 in a bomb that hit his hour during what was known as "Liberation war", I paid little attention to it. Eventually, I now realize that the Lebanese war killed the man who plainly foresaw its coming.
In the version of the book that I own, there is a notice that says that the book was picked up by the Unesco as part of its masterpieces that illustrate certain periods of time. So if you want to know how Beirut became the war-inflamed city, I cannot but recommend (at least the Arabic version of) "Tawahin Beirut."
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