February 18, 2024
“Sensitive” “Tribute to the cultural richness of a region ravaged by war” – Politis reviewed Douaihy’s “Poison in the air”

“Sensitive” “Tribute to the cultural richness of a region ravaged by war” – Politis reviewed Douaihy’s “Poison in the air”

Lucas Sarafian, for Politis, January 17, 2024

Jabbour Douaihy recounts his Lebanon

The latest novel by the Lebanese writer, who passed away in 2021, tells of a shattered destiny and pays tribute to the cultural richness of a region ravaged by war.

While war is commonly treated as a geopolitical issue, it is too often forgotten that it destroys and changes lives. In a mountain village in Lebanon, the dead accumulate, families gradually leave, and danger rises. The narrator, still an adolescent, shares this concern. But how could he guess that this is only the beginning: the beginning of the Lebanese civil war, “whose causes we did not grasp at the time and which, years later, we would understand were ridiculous”? A shell destroys the kitchen of the house where the narrator lives with his mother, father, and hemiplegic aunt. The family decides to leave for Beirut. But even there, it is impossible to escape the growing tensions in the country.

“Poison in the Air,” the latest novel by Lebanese author Jabbour Douaihy, who passed away in 2021, recounts forced exiles and the tragedy of a shattered destiny. Crushed by the dominance of the ruling power and consumed by the idea of war, the narrator finds himself unable to fulfill his desires: to write, to read, and to teach literature. In the deadlock, this double of the author, since he himself was a French teacher, takes refuge in political revolt. He joins a Palestinian armed organization, acts on behalf of the Arab Trotskyist organization, and lives in fear of being arrested.

Implicitly, the author wonders what to make of a life that has known only war, from the beginnings of the civil conflict to the explosion of the port of Beirut in August 2020. But he refuses to reduce the life of the narrator and the history of his region to violence. He sets out to write about the cultural richness of the Middle East. The reader then encounters the description of a painting by the Syrian artist Abou Sobhi Al-Tinawi, writings by the Lebanese poet Bechara El-Khoury, or the pre-Islamic Arab writer Antara Ibn Chaddâd. Verses by Khalil Gibran or Mahmoud Darwich punctuate the text. Thus, Douaihy confronts the artistic diversity of the Middle East with the conflicts that divide some countries in the region.

Another stylistic interest of the novel is the importance given to landscape descriptions. The narrator constantly tries to remember the country he once knew: “The bright colors on certain facades, the woodwork of the windows, the high walls swallowed by climbing plants and dried flowers, hiding old houses where ancient families, on the brink of extinction, led an austere and silent life with rules from another time.” Through this sensitive approach, Jabbour Douaihy attempts to reconstruct the beauty of a Lebanon ravaged by decades of armed conflict.