Nathaniel Popkin at Public Books:
Lebanese author Elias Khoury’s latest novel to be translated into English, Broken Mirrors, is about identity and memory, destruction and displacement, exile and its internal ruptures. The book opens with the exiled Karim Shammas having just returned to a still-dangerous Beirut in 1990, as the Lebanese civil war that began in 1975 works its way to an explosive end. Karim suffers from a “homesickness for Beirut [that] had left him incapable of thought” and lands him in his home city without his knowing exactly why he is there. The deep, inexplicable longing that overtakes him in middle age is accompanied by paralyzing despair over endemic violence, endless war, and pervasive corruption. “The war will never end because it’s inside us,” says a woman, Salma, to Karim, reflecting not only the accumulated anguish of war, but the deeply fractured nature of Lebanon, Christian and Muslim, born from French and English imperial maneuvering and Maronite demands for a state independent of Syria at the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
Khoury, who was until recently a Global Distinguished Professor of the Middle Eastern and Arabic Studies at New York University and the editor of a top Lebanese literary magazine, Al-Mulhaq, is a stunning literary voice of Beirut’s despair and resilience. He isn’t alone in this project. Beirut, its sweep of sea and mountains perched on the edge of East and West, open and cosmopolitan, yet fundamentally unstable, has engendered an urban literature of resilience and memory, of voices trapped in the rubble.