March 21, 2018
The National calls Douaihy’s American Neighborhood “a Tripoli ballet,” “graceful”

The National calls Douaihy’s American Neighborhood “a Tripoli ballet,” “graceful”

Published by The National, July 20th, 2017

Jabbour Douaihy’s The American Quarter is a strange and complex look into a Tripoli neighbourhood. In American Neighborhood, Lebanese writer Jabbour Douaihy narrates the intersection of three lives in an impoverished Tripoli district in northern Lebanon.

Jabbour Douaihy’s The American Quarter is a surprisingly graceful tale of alienation, violence and human connection. The novel, ably translated by Paula Haydar, follows three very different characters adrift in the flotsam and confusion of life, who find a way to connect in one fleeting, transformative moment.

The novel, longlisted for the 2015 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), is a fresh experiment by one of Lebanon’s most accomplished writers. It is set in Douaihy’s native northern Lebanon, like his 2012 IPAF-shortlisted novel, Chased Away, and his 2008 IPAF-shortlisted June Rain.

This ballet-like novel, which takes place at the end of 2003, centres on Tripoli’s impoverished Bab Al Tebbeneh district, the titular “American quarter”. Tripoli has been branded Lebanon’s “jihadi city”, and one of the novel’s characters does travel to Iraq, assigned to a suicide bombing. Yet, before this, we see this character’s neighbourhood in rich detail, and the dense, fragmented social networks in Douaihy’s stratified Tripoli feel not unlike Elena Ferrante’s Naples.

The book’s interlocking stories circle around three different characters. At the centre of the dance is Ismail, who has barely reached manhood in 2003. The other two are his mother, Intisar, and Abdelkarim, Intisar’s employer…

[At the end], the three very different poles of the book intersect: Ismail, Abdelkarim and Intisar. They come together in a shared understanding, and find an improbable connection – a strange and magical climax to this Tripoli ballet. Read more