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

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: Self-Portrait in Black and White

Updated 20 October 2019

What We Are Reading Today: Self-Portrait in Black and White

Author: Thomas Chatterton Williams

Thomas Chatterton Williams’ book Self-Portrait in Black and White is “more rigorous than mournful, an account of solutions more than of problems, marked by self-deprecating humor and acute sensitivity,” said Andrew Solomon in a review for The New York Times.  
Solomon added: “Williams, a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine, is well educated, intellectually sophisticated and prosperous, and he tries to limn the complex relationship between race and class, to figure out where racism is classism and where classism is racism, an almost Escher-like maze as snobbery casts a thin veil over racial hatred and vice versa.”
While Self-Portrait in Black and White “begins with assertions of Williams’ blackness, it evolves into a rich set of questions occasioned
by the birth of his first child,” said Solomon.
The critic said Williams’ final chapter, Self-Portrait of an Ex-Black Man, “explores his rejection of an identity that he has seldom sought but frequently embraced.”