Book Review: A quirky portrayal of Beirut’s publishing industry

“Printed in Beirut,” a quirky tale of mystery and wit. (Shutterstock)
Updated 07 January 2019
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Book Review: A quirky portrayal of Beirut’s publishing industry

  • “Printed in Beirut,” a quirky tale of mystery and wit
  • Jabbour Douaihy plunges the reader into the Lebanese capital’s book printing world

CHICAGO: In “Printed in Beirut,” a quirky tale of mystery and wit, celebrated author Jabbour Douaihy plunges the reader into the Lebanese capital’s book printing world and its cast of comic and unpredictable characters.

Douaihy explores city’s printing scene through the eyes of Farid Abu Shaar, a writer who takes himself and his work too seriously as he attempts to navigate the publishing companies.

Shaar is seeking a publisher for a handcrafted manuscript, but when he fails to secure the deal of his dreams, and is instead offered a job as an Arabic copy editor, his life falls into a dizzying spiral.

Douaihy’s brilliance comes in the form of his characters, their unintended fates and the way they follow the paths carved for them. Their comical predictability, generational humor and self-importance is clear as he moves his story from the beginning of the 20th century to present day, recalling Lebanon’s historical past, its ethnic diversity and political turmoil.

At Karam Brothers Press, Shaar finds himself on the site of a Beirut literary landmark. Oblivious to the history that lies beneath his feet, or the significance of the jacaranda trees around him, he immerses himself in a world that smells like ink and is watched over by a black-and-white photograph of Fuad Karam, the founder of the press.

Shaar gets to know the Karam family and the Al-Halwany partner who helped establish the company, but fails to understand the depth of their devotion to the press.

The publishing house has survived the chaos of the Second World War, famine, bombardment by warships, civil wars, airstrikes and uprisings. And it is through Douaihy’s witty portrayal of the characters and the labyrinthine history of book publishing that the reader finds themselves happily submerged in Beirut society and history.

First published in Arabic in 2016 by Al-Saqi, “Printed in Beirut” was translated into English by Paula Haydar and published by Interlink Books in 2018.

Manal Shakir is the author of “Magic Within,” published by Harper Collins India. She lives in Chicago, Illinois.


What We Are Reading Today: Infinite Powers by Steven H. Strogatz

Updated 19 June 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Infinite Powers by Steven H. Strogatz

  • It harnesses an unreal number — infinity — to tackle real‑world problems

Without calculus, we would not have cellphones, TV, GPS, or ultrasound. We would not have unraveled DNA or discovered Neptune or figured out how to put 5,000 songs in your pocket. 

Though many of us were scared away from this essential, engrossing subject in high school and college, Steven Strogatz’s brilliantly creative, down‑to‑earth history shows that calculus is not about complexity; it is about simplicity. It harnesses an unreal number — infinity — to tackle real‑world problems, breaking them down into easier ones and then reassembling the answers into solutions that feel miraculous. 

Infinite Powers recounts how calculus tantalized and thrilled its inventors, starting with its first glimmers in ancient Greece and bringing us right up to the discovery of gravitational waves (a phenomenon predicted by calculus), says a review published on goodreads.com.

Strogatz reveals how this form of math rose to the challenges of each age: How to determine the area of a circle with only sand and a stick; how to explain why Mars goes “backward” sometimes; how to make electricity with magnets and how to ensure your rocket does not miss the moon.