“Saint Georges was looking away” – Avvenire reviews Douaihy’s Chased away
We were strongly impressed by the accuracy, originality and inventiveness Douaihy had shown in his first novel translated into Italian in 2012, ‘June rain’, which, through the main character, tells the story of the origin of the Lebanese civil war, and the future of a country raped by fratricidal conflicts, and the uninterrupted yoke of foreign influence. Now Feltrinelli translates a second book by Jabbour Douaihy, born 1949 in Zgharta, North Lebanon, a landscape that recurs in his novels and that the writer knows how to represent as instances of poetic signs from destiny. The book is “St. George was looking away”, and it was rightly awarded the Hanna Wakim prize of the year’s best Lebanese novel. The original title, which translated into Italian literally fits the thematic core around which the story develops, “Chased away” so that the first title announced for the Italian edition of the book was “The Lebanese wanderer.” But then the Italian and French translators opted for a more evocative title, one open to many suggestions, “Saint George was looking away”. A choice that is explained as follows: “I chose a title that leaves the reader undecided. Saint George is the saint patron of the city of Beirut, venerated by Christians and respected by Muslims. But in the novel Saint Georges seems distracted, and let the tragedy unfold.” In this case we let the door open to the reader, not revealing the nature of the tragedy, which would take the interest away, especially in a narrative so articulate. Not to mention the primary feature of Douaihy’s writing that makes of the Lebanese landscape, especially that it is the roots of the writer, an element of strength, not only descriptive, but also strongly elegiac, as outlined in the story.
The wanderer, a theme typically Hebraic, is here told in a totally different context, where it is not to be taken in the literal sense of looking for a land in which to stay, but as a quest for an identity, not lost, but all to build. In this lies the strength of the novel, in presenting the figure of Nizam, a blond boy with blue eyes, born in a Sunni family in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city in importance, and raised in a mountain village, in a family of superior social conditions, that welcomes him, gives him his name and brings to him the paths of their religion. In this lies the conflict that Douaihy recounts, that between Muslim and Christian realities, of which Nizam becomes a metaphorical symbol. At twenty, when he gets to Beirut, in the turmoil of the revolution, with the outbreak of the civil war, he must come to terms with his being Muslim and Christian. A dual membership to the two communities, seen not only with suspicion but decidedly rejected. The narrative power of Douaihy lies in his strong belief in the real possibility of telling emblematic stories, with strong characters who are never forgotten. Stories that become emblematic, like are the solitude and the identity of the torn protagonist.