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
0

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: The Fate of Rome

Updated 23 March 2019
0

What We Are Reading Today: The Fate of Rome

Author: Kyle Harper

Here is the monumental retelling of one of the most consequential chapters of human history: The fall of the Roman Empire. The Fate of Rome is the first book to examine the catastrophic role that climate change and infectious diseases played in the collapse of Rome’s power — a story of nature’s triumph over human ambition.
Interweaving a grand historical narrative with cutting-edge climate science and genetic discoveries, Kyle Harper traces how the fate of Rome was decided not just by emperors, soldiers, and barbarians but also by volcanic eruptions, solar cycles, climate instability, and devastating viruses and bacteria.
He takes readers from Rome’s pinnacle in the second century, when the empire seemed an invincible superpower, to its unraveling by the 7th century, when Rome was politically fragmented and materially depleted, says a review on the Princeton University Press website. Harper describes how the Romans were resilient in the face of enormous environmental stress, until the besieged empire could no longer withstand the combined challenges of a “little ice age” and recurrent outbreaks of bubonic plague.