Antoine Online
Alinea, Librairie Antoine book review #7 
December 21, 2009  
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In our previous issue we made a promise to discuss Lebanese and Arab writers increasingly and were keeping it. This Christmas were giving our favourite writers the gift of visibility and if you like what weve done then why dont you contribute to our mission and give someone you love one of the books weve recommended, or many...
From creating a national reading list, to picking our favourite books by country, to dedicating entire sections to the greatest Lebanese and Palestinian talents we tried to make sure this first special edition is a good one, and we hope youll find it both entertaining and informative.
In future issues we will go on investigating other Arab countries and their literature. If you have any suggestions be it writers, books, publishing houses, etc. please e-mail us on the following address:
Oh! And I almost forgot! The Alinea team would like to wish you HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Marilyn Zakhour

A couple of months ago, Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, implemented a four-part color coded Revolutionary Reading Plan whereby participants in the so called reading groups are led by a group leader who directs the conversation through sequences of reading selections that progress with an ideological agenda. When I first heard about this plan I couldnt help but wonder which books or authors would make it on our national reading list (should it be devoid of a political agenda). Here are our picks.

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From Lebanon
As the entire issue of this newsletter is dedicated to local writers we decided to dedicate the From Lebanon column to local contemporary art. As international attention increases and Beiruts contemporary art scene has come to wield so much influence here are some of the most recent publications on the local art scene.

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One country, one book

Many readers like to read books by geographical order, meaning that they read one book by country then start all over again, so we thought wed pick the one book you have to read from each of the Arabic speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

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Antoine's Selection  
Almond Blossoms and Beyond by Mahmoud Darwich
Almond blossoms and beyond is a collection of some of the last poems written by the literary giant, Mahmoud Darwish.  It is the first book by the beloved Palestinian poet to be published since his untimely death on April 9, 2008. Gathering some of his last writings on longing, exile, women and home this work is less defiant than his earlier poetry and rather informed by wisdom, maturity and experience. With imagery that is at once mundane and sublime Darwishs poetry forces us to look at the world in a new way.
Ashura: This Blood Spilled in My Veins by Jalal Toufic
The Day of Ashura is commemorated by some Twelver Shiites as a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad at the Battle of Karbala. This book by the Lebanese artist and filmmaker Jalal Toufic is a collection of photographs and video stills of the ceremony of self flagellation that marks the wait for the twelfth Imam. Blood soaks the entire scene. All along the book Toufics reflections on the subject are both collected and detached. He writes: "Al-Husayn, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad and the son of the first Shi'ite imam, 'Ali, was slaughtered alongside many members of his family in the desert in 680. This memory is torture to me. But, basically, one can say "this memory is torture to me" of every memory, since each reminiscence envelops at some level the memory of the origin of memory..."
Short stories
Master of the Eclipse (Interlink World Fiction) by Etel Adnan
These short stories tell of diverse characters, filmmakers, poets, girls, professors, and prostitutes over a long period of time and place, from the 1930s Beirut to the 1960s San Francisco to the First Gulf war.  Often autobiographical and nostalgic these tales are told with a delicate sensibility through which lurks the shadow of war all the while displaying the human desire to survive.
The Lebanese-American poet, essayist, and visual artist is said by MELUS (the journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States) to be the most celebrated and accomplished Arab American author writing today.
Art book
Palestinian Art: From 1850 to the Present by Kamal Boullata
Kamall Boullatas new book is a must read for anyone half interested in the visual culture of the Arab world. Visual arts in the Middle East have long suffered of a sort of illegitimacy, always falling behind literature and music. In the past years an increased interest in this art form has been achieved through the organization of events with the likes of Photo Cairo, the Home Works Forum in Beirut and the Sharjah Biennial.
Kamal Boullatas work is the first authoritative English language account yet published. Palestinian art presents insights on the development of art before and after the 1948 events that uprooted the Palestinian population, displaying representations of home and exile, the struggle between innovation and tradition, the relationship between verbal and visual expression and the role of women artists.
Memories In Translation: A Life Between The Lines Of Arabic Literature by Denys Johnson-Davies
Denys Johnson-Davies has done more than anyone else to promote contemporary Arabic literature in the Anglo-Saxon world.  He has translated some 28 volumes in 60 years. More than a translator he was a talent scout, an agent, and a friend to a number of contemporary Arab writers ranging from Naguib Mahfouz whom we discovered when Mahfouz was still a young civil servant in his thirties, to the late Jabra Ibrahim Jabra in Baghdad, the late Yusuf al-Khal in Beirut, the Sudanese Tayeb Salih (in London) and Muhammad al-Murr in Dubai. Now in his eighties he has written a most readable memoir in which he recalls his encounters with Arab writers, readers, critics and publishers.
Yalo (Rainmaker Translations) by Elias Khoury
Elias Khoury is of those writers who are deeply linked to their cities. This novel tells the story of a young man, Yalo, growing up on the streets of Beirut during the long years of the Lebanese civil war. Living with his mother and raised by his grandfather Ephraim, a half-mad Syriac priest, Yalo joins a dangerous gang and ends up being arrested with charges of rape. He is forced to make a different confession everyday in order to stay alive and in doing so begins to understand his familys past, his own psyche and the forces that have shaped him. No one describes Beirut and tells its stories better than Khoury.
Cockroach by Rawi Hage
Canadian author Rawi Hage rose to fame with his debut novel De Niros game, which won him the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the largest English literary prize on the planet. While this new novel contains many similar themes to those explored in De Niros game it is an achievement in its own right.
Hage digs into his culture as an immigrant and moves out of war torn Beirut heading for the more familiar Montreal. The strange main character of this book has had a failed suicide attempt and finds himself forced to attend sessions with a well intentioned though not so helpful therapist.  Strange indeed for he is in the habit of imagining himself a cockroach. Other humans gaze at the sky, he explains, but I say unto you, the only way through the world is to pass through the underground.
After this second brilliant novel, Hage proves himself an undeniable talent.
In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar
How much does a 9-year-old know and understand about totalitarianism? Hisham Matars debut novel, hailed by the The Bookseller as the most highly prized literary debut of the autumn, answers this question in this carefully structured, poignantly rendered exceptional book. In this account, first-person narrator Suleiman looks back at his nine-year-old self trying to understand the confusing family relationships and political events that he witnessed in Tripoli in the summer of 1979, that last summer before I was sent away. The novel is well rythmed, and the tension builds up as the net closes around Suleimans father and his associates, who are linked to a student democracy movement. At a time when international leaders are beginning to cosy up to al Qaddafi this book is a good reminder of the cruelty of his regime.
Learning English (Interlink World Fiction) by Rashid Da'if
After falling victim to family rivalry Mr. Hamad E.D., the father of our protagonist, young, hip and Beiruti Rachid, is murdered on Zghortas main square. Having tried through his urban life style and learning English to sever his ties with the old fashioned village of Zghorta, Rachid finds himself drawn back into this world and the questions that were raised during his childhood, questions better laid to rest. Ultimately a novel about identity and its ambiguity.
The Year of the Revolutionary New Bread-making Machine by Hassan Daoud
At present Hassan Daoud is the chief editor of 'Nawafez', the cultural supplement of the Beirut daily paper 'Al-Mustaqbal Daily'. The year of the revolutionary bread making machine is translated from the Arabic. The narrator recalls his youth in 1960s Beirut, where his uncle and father owned a bakery. When he wasn't hanging around at the bakery listening in on grown up conversations or staring at the clientele, the narrator was off smoking and learning about women with his friends. The men working inside the bakery lead an altogether different life, working hard in endless shifts. When his father acquired the revolutionary bread making machine the workers struggled to keep up. A poignant account of Beirut in the 60s.
Lebanon, Lebanon by collective
This anthology displays a large scope of reactions to the 2006, 33 day war on Lebanon. With such names as Etel Adnan, Paul Auster, Hoda Barakat, Hassan Daoud, Mahmud Darwish, Robert Fisk, Mazen Kerbaj, Zena el-Khalil, Alexandre Najjar, Hanan al-Shaykh, and Brian Whitaker, this book was praised as a landmark book. This collection of drawings and writings by prominent authors and artists is dedicated to the children that are suffering from the after effects of the 2006 war. All proceeds from the anthology go to Lebanese children's charities.
      Short News

The 52nd edition of the Beirut Book Fair will be held at the Biel Center, December 11th through December 24th. Beiruts Arab Book Fair has taken place every year since 1956. The Book Fair was first held at the American University of Beiruts West Hall. In the mid 1950s, it was the first event of its kind in the Arab world. he Beirut Book Fair is traditionally an opportunity to find out about local and regional productions.

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Dr. George Sabra, Truth and Services A history of the Near East School of Theology
Friday December 11, 6pm to 8pm
Near East School of Theology - Ras Beirut

Selim Mehanna, Al Alam al Masrafiy
Saturday December 12, 4pm to 6pm

Omar Lakkis, Diwan Al karawiy
Sunday December 13, 4pm to 6pm

Turning Point, Creatives lives
Wednesday December 16, 5pm to 8pm
ABC Ashrafieh

Ghattas Al Hakim, Al samaa 3ala al ard
Wednesday December 16, 6pm to 8pm

Marwan Iskandar, The Bear Turns Tiger , Resurgent Russia
Thursday December 17, 6pm to 8pm

Emily Nasrallah, Hamasat
Friday December 18, 4pm to 6pm

Samir Farhat, Silsilat Khafaya
Friday December 18, 6pm to 8pm

Sabina Mahfouz and Patrick Sfeir, Abou el Abed jokes part 2
Saturday December 19, 3pm to 6pm
ABC Ashrafieh

Youssef Hamid Mouawad, Laws of Lebanese Corporations
Saturday December 19, 6pm to 8pm


Alinea is Librairie Antoines literary magazine and website: You can find all books mentioned in these categories on by clicking on the links

  Executive Editor  Tania Hadjithomas Mehanna
  Editors Marilyn Zakhour, Cyril Hadji Thomas
  Production Cedar Brokers ltd

All rights reserved to Librairie Antoine SAL (Lebanon)



B for Beirut

In the past decade, Beirut has been a muse to many a writer, so much so that a trend has been set, the word Beirut is included in tens of book titles, starting with Hanan el Sheykhs Beirut Blues, that mainly deal with the Lebanese civil war. Here are some of our favourites.

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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been in the news for more than 6 decades. The key issues of the conflicts are border security, water rights, control of Jerusalem, land rights, and legalities concerning refugees. Many a book has been written on the issue but we thought wed make a selection of some of the more relevant works of fictionand memoirs, written in the past decade or so, that deal with the conflict.

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    Quote of the Month

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   Free Style

Etel Adnan is a freestyler. Her poetic voice defies easy classification. Daughter of a Christian Greek mother and a Muslim Syrian father, she grew up speaking Greek and Turkish in a mainly Arabic-speaking society. She was also educated at French convent schools, and her early work was written in French whereas most of her later work has been first written in English. It is this variety of languages and cultures which lends Etal Adnans writings a unique and inimitable quality.

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Hat Off

Beyrouth by day by Tania Hadjithomas Mehanna, Photography by Ghadi Smat
Beirut... the city. Neighborhoods to be discovered and experienced, images to be taken, words to be written. Beirut... the encounters. Genuine smiles, innate kindness, spontaneaous hospitality and even the occasional worries. Beirut... the history. Millenniums in sight, interlaced with streets and alleys, above and below.

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    Must Read

Attitudes to sexuality reflect the state of a society and sexuality in the Arab world is often viewed as a taboo, rarely spoken of in public. In the academic sense this vital area is rather understudied but here are some of the more authorative works on the subject.

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Samah Selim is the 2009 winner of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for her translation of The collar and the bracelet by the late Yahya Taher Abdullah.
The runners-up are Michelle Hartman for her translation of Iman Humaydan Youness novel Wild Mulberries and Elliott Colla for his translation of Ibrahim al-Konis Gold Dust.

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  From A Book To

Gate Of The Sun: Bab Al-Shams by Elias Khoury
Told in the voice of a makeshift doctor, Khalil, talking to a comatose, aging Palestinian fighter, Yunes, Gate Of The Sun is a tapestry of stories. Using a strategy that is in an inversion of "A Thousand and One Nights", as Khalil believes his stories are keeping Yunes alive, Khoury narrates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the 1930s and up to the 1990s.

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