What We Are Reading Today: Killing Mr. Lebanon, by Nicholas Blanford

Updated 07 May 2018

What We Are Reading Today: Killing Mr. Lebanon, by Nicholas Blanford

Before the Arab Spring, the Syrian war and fears of another conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, one story dominated Lebanon: The killing of Rafik Hariri. 
The former prime minister and architect of Beirut’s revival after decades of war, Hariri was one of the most powerful men in the country’s history. He was killed by a car bomb near Beirut’s seafront in 2005. 
This book was written before the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon indicted four Hezbollah members for the assassination. 
Their trial in absentia has been ongoing since 2014. But despite the painfully slow legal process that has unfolded since its publication, Nicholas Blanford’s detailed and compelling account of the final weeks of Hariri’s life still paints a fascinating picture of the murky figures and complex layers that make up the higher echelons of power in the divided nation. 
With the country holding its first election in nine years this week, “Killing Mr. Lebanon” is a reminder of Lebanon’s fragility and the challenges faced by the current generation of leaders in holding it together.

Book Review: Exploring the beauty — and controversy — of Orientalist art

Exploring the beauty and controversy of Orientalist art. (Shutterstock)
Updated 2 min 57 sec ago

Book Review: Exploring the beauty — and controversy — of Orientalist art

BEIRUT: Author James Parry examines the 19th century trend that saw scores of Western artists head to the Middle East in search of inspiration in this beautifully illustrated book.

“Orientalist Lives: Western Artists in the Middle East” looks at the lives and works of the diverse set of artists who traveled across the region and attempted to recreate their observations on canvas.

According to the book, Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt and the eventual publication of a series of documents titled “Description de l’Égypte,” which sought to comprehensively catalog all known aspects of ancient and modern Egypt, starting from 1809, sparked an interest in Egypt and the wider region.

German painter Carl Haag (1820-1915) enthusiastically wrote that for “anyone in search of a new ground of subjects for their pencil, there is only one Cairo and artists ought to see it.”

Scottish painter David Roberts (1796-1864), one of the most famous Orientalist artists, anticipated that there would be a market in Europe for drawings and watercolors representing the street scenes, rich architecture and bountiful landscapes of these faraway places. He traveled first to Spain and Morocco and then to Egypt — a journey that made him famous. The success of Roberts’ paintings and lithographs sealed his reputation as one of the most influential Orientalists, even though he only made one trip to the region.

While he may have only undertaken one trip to the Middle East, this book details the lives of other artists who developed a long and intense relationship with a particular region or country. This is the case with Alphonse-Étienne Dinet, a French artist who traveled to North Africa, founded the Société des Peintres Orientalistes (Society for French Orientalist Painters) and even converted to Islam, changing his name to Nasreddine Dinet. He is known for his paintings of the Ouled Naïl tribe of Algeria.

This captivating book goes on to describe the rise and fall of Orientalist art’s popularity and explores the notion that such works are based on caricatures of Arab culture — propagated by Edward Said’s seminal 1978 book, “Orientalism.”

Valuing form over content, Orientalist artists conjured up exquisite images, exceptional detail and vivid emotions with superb technique, giving their paintings an almost photographic quality, and this book will give you insight into their journey east.