Glimpses into War-torn Beirut

Laila Lalami in The Los Angeles Times:

Book Yalo by Elias Khoury

Few cities have withstood the kind of violence and carnage that Beirut has. Though destroyed by a civil war lasting 15 long years, it seemed to be on the verge of an economic and cultural renaissance in 2006 when it was bombed again during the Israeli invasion. Beirut is a city that has learned to start over, to rebuild itself on top of its ruins, but it is also a place where memories are long and myths are persistent. In his new novel, Yalo, Elias Khoury grapples with the idea of truth and memory, what we choose to remember and what we prefer to forget. In fact, Yalo is composed of confessions — whether forced or voluntary, true or laced with self-aggrandizement, redemptive for the confessor or entirely useless.

Khoury was born in Beirut’s Ashrafiyyeh district (also known as “Little Mountain”) at a crucial historical moment: 1948, the year that witnessed the founding of the state of Israel and the resulting dispossession that Palestinians call the Nakba (“catastrophe”). These twin events have had a profound significance for him as a novelist, playwright, journalist and literary critic. In 1967, at age 19, he visited Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, and, revolted by what he saw, he enrolled in Fatah, the largest political faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization. Three years later, in the aftermath of Black September, he left Jordan for Paris, where he finished his college education. With Yalo, Khoury returns to Beirut in the 1980s with a book that is a series of jagged narratives shifting in time, location and point of view. The novel gives us, like pieces of a puzzle, the story of Daniel Jal’u, nicknamed Yalo. He is a soldier who, after 10 years spent on one of the many sides of Lebanon’s sectarian civil war, gradually becomes a deserter, a thief, a vagabond in Paris, a night watchman in Beirut, a traitor to his benefactor, an arms smuggler, a voyeur and eventually a rapist. Then Yalo falls in love with the young Shirin, and that single act of affection ends in his capture; she turns him in to the police and accuses him of rape.

More here.