| Charid al-manazel
Dar an-nahar, Lebanon, Beirut, 2010
Born to a modest Muslim family of Tripoli, Lebanon, in the early sixties, Nizam Al Aalmi, couldn’t suspect that the unconditional love that an old and rich Christian couple had for him would change the course of his life. When the civil war broke in Beirut in 1975, the handsome 20 year old man found himself in an impossible situation. An ordinary man, enjoying his youth and the wonders of a busy city, he did not have a cause, nor did he wish to fight. Born a Muslim, brought up a Christian, and finally baptized at the age of 17, he didn’t naturally belong to any side. Trapped in the growing madness of the civil war, this poetic character is destined to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. He ends up losing his life at the hands of a Muslim militia, convinced that he was a Christian.
Douaihy’s sense of irony strikes the reader once again. Nizam’s loss of his life is the simple result of a series of unrelated events, circumstances and coincidences. ‘But isn’t that just what life is?’ Douaihy seems to say. In this novel, irony is also defined by the contrast between the light heartedness, dreams and illusions of the leftist revolutionary youth in the sixties, who are taken by surprise and completely unsettled by the crude, unimaginable and meaningless violence of civil war. A dramatic shift of weight structures the novel and splits it into two halves: before and after 1975.
Even a dead man Nizam is a disturbing puzzle: where to burry him? Following what rite? Deeper ones, barely disguised, underwrite these pragmatic questions: Who is Nizam? Is he a Muslim young man? A Christian? This apparently simple question cannot in this case be easily answered. Can it ever? What does it mean to be a Muslim? A Christian? One of the author’s recurrent themes, cultural and personal identity, here, once again, leads the story and is developed through Nizam’s tragedy, with the help of half a dozen of characters, friends, family and lovers. Olga, the young attractive and extravagant Russian landlord; Yusra, the passionate activist and violent mistress; Jinan, the true love, fragile and hopeless; Vasco, the Christian bourgeois, leftist at heart, stuck on his wheel chair; Maysaloun, the loving and caring older sister; Khaled, the religious and intolerant younger brother; Raffoul, the miserable hotel owner. All ordinary people living an ordinary life, to which the reader identifies so easily, that the possibility of such violence and injustice seems even more unbelievable.
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