Night of the Litani.
The author weaves a compelling tale on a warp of traditional Lebanese life into which Camellia plans to submerge herself, against a weft of political upheaval. The resulting tapestry of tortured politics and humorous incidences of culture shock are all rendered with journalistic clarity and objectivity. The events of the story play out like an evening news documentary with reportage on Palestine-Israel-Syrian-Lebanese political battles. Glimpses of everyday Lebanese life, both Arab and Christian, reveal insights into some of the complex issues woven into the ancient fabric of Middle East conflict.
While some books appeal to the intellect and others tug at the heart, Night of the Litani engages the reader in a complex spectrum of emotions, beliefs, preconceived notions and physical senses. Readers are transported into a world of heady aromas of taboulleh and aromatic water pipes, contrasted with the smoke and dust of bombs and crumbling buildings. The reader, engaged in listening to an a capella "bride song" at a traditional wedding is suddenly bombarded with the thunderous rumbles of tanks and the whistle of RPG (rocket-propelled grenades). Billowing clouds of war machines and violent explosions greedily swallow the glittering Mediterranean sun and blacken the brilliant Beirut sky. The joys and pleasures of young lovers become hardened into lumps of mortar shells, broken dreams like those of many generations now involved in Middle Eastern antagonisms.
The story, about love and danger and growing up, races along throttling the reader over bumpy village roads, past sharp contrasts of pungent flavors of spicy meats, lush vegetables and delicate pastries of the markets; richly textured fabrics, silks and embroideries; and the ghostly remains of what was once a brilliant vibrant city. Shifting gears dramatically, Brunais drops the reader into a group of carefree foreign tourists whose only problem is where to eat lunch.
A dramatic emotional shift is expressed again when Camellia is forced to take upon herself a tortuous journey. She leaves the ragged misery of Beirut, traverses the rugged mountains of South Lebanon and experiences, the tranquil and breathtaking beauty of Lebanon's mountains and forests, which are juxtaposed against the pain, suffering and defiance of Phalangist resistance and Palestinian refugee camps. Ultimately, the young woman becomes disenchanted with her fiance as his true character is revealed in his native environment. Amid the emotional turmoil of her heart, Camellia rises to a greater understanding of human nature as well as the nature of human conflict.
With great technical skill and mature observation, Brunais combines the unerring eye of a journalist and a keen sense of drama. In one passage she focuses the reader's attention on the sudden appearance of a rare and fragile gonepteryx butterfly among the stony outcroppings and dilapidated ruins of Baalbek where tourists babble and gawk. They are from another life, another time, like Camellia. Camellia herself is out of place, yet this alien land provides the dramatic backdrop for her wakening, as she discovers deep reservoirs of strength and wisdom. Simultaneously, the story sustains the metaphor of youth and innocence in the person of lovers who, like Lebanon and the Middle East, in general, endure bewildering and powerful forces that push them to the edge of frustration and despair.
Samuel Y. Fustukjian is Dean of Library Sciences at the University of South Florida, Tampa.
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|Author:||Fustukjian, Samuel Y.|
|Publication:||Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1996|
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