A heart rending book, this is a personal memoir of a family at war in Lebanon. It's a personal account foretold through the eyes of the author, a Palestinian/Lebanese academic, at the American University of Beirut.
The book is apolitical and doesn't take sides in the conflict but centers on the daily trials and tribulations of a family trying to make it during the heights of the Lebanese civil war, while enduring the bombs and missiles thrown at them from all directions as they seek to carry on with their daily lives.
The language used is rich and beautiful, couched in nostalgia and yearning, yet heart-breaking as the author describes a community and a society slowly in dilapidation, while factions and parties tear at each others' throats in cross-fighting.
Its a book about how a country was like in its elegance, plushness, brightness and color, and of what it had come to be controlled by factions, danger and drabness and war where human lives had come to account for nothing.
Its also one of determination and resolve. Despite the dangers of being killed, a possible occurrence on a daily basis, the author, her husband, also a university professor and their young family, refuse to leave Beirut and the country, but prefer to stick it out.
While people, continually in search of safety, are in constant move, leaving the country for safer heavens, the author, Jean Said Makdisi, originally from Jerusalem and a Christian Arab, educated in the United States and long made Beirut her home, looks for better days believing that her country can still make it out of the war.
But you feel what she and her family are going through as she describes her nightly sojourn down to the shelter in search of safety while the bombs, missiles and stray bullets reign down on Beirut. At times, because of the "shelter meetings" a sense of community develop between the people who are sharing common fears.
The human elements and community is continually developing and replenishing in its people that become shabby and dangerous districts and the rule of law becomes meaningless a midst the guns and proteges although this is a humanistic account.
Through the family of Jean we get the feeling that people are trying to look after each other, there are more visits to friends, and with people trying to pick up the pieces, afraid yet not willing to let the atmosphere of violence shadow their lives.
They are determined to lead their lives, making it a point to follow their daily routines, in taking their children to school as best they can, and carrying on despite the daily odds of getting killed by venturing into the streets.
As you read, you get a sense of melancholy, sadness and frustration. In one night we are told Jean and her family went down to the shelter so many times, carrying their beddings, in the end, feeling too tired she gives up and slumbers on one of the sofas. She says on that night she didn't care about getting hit.
There is certainly a sense of abomination to what was happening in Beirut and to Beirut, and the rupture that the city was daily subjected to from inside and outside forces while the international community helplessly looks on. The Lebanese are encircled, totally closed off from the rest of the world and feeling isolated.
She openly tells of the Israeli soldiers occupying residential flats and office blocs while their army invaded Lebanon, deliberately leaving their feces and excrement on desks, a sort of reminder of what people are capable of doing to each other
It was pointless and meaningless war, a dated book but historically significant to understand misery couched with human waste.