Told in elegant, evocative prose, a devastating and necessary testament to the August explosion that thoughtfully examines the crises that preceded it and its aftermath.
At the start of the summer of 2020, in a Lebanon ruined by economic crisis and political corruption, in an exhausted Beirut still rising up for true democracy while the world was paralyzed by the coronavirus, Charif Majdalani set about writing a journal. He intended to bear witness to this terrible, confusing time, and perhaps endure it by putting it into words. Using small, everyday interactions—with fellow restaurant patrons, repairmen, the father of his wife’s patient, a young Syrian refugee—as openings to address larger systemic problems, he explains how events in Lebanon’s recent history led to this point.
Then, on August 4, the explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in the port of Beirut devastated the city and the country. Majdalani’s chronicle suddenly became a record of the catastrophe, which left more than two hundred dead and thousands injured, and the massive public outcry that followed. In the midst of the senseless chaos and grief, however, he continues to find cause for hope in the kindness and resilience of those determined to stay and rebuild.
Novelist Majdalani (Moving the Palace) reflects in this penetrating account on the factors that led up to the August 2020 explosion at the Port of Beirut that killed 200 people and destroyed 200,000 homes and hundreds of historic sites. He sketches Lebanon's history from the drawing of its modern borders in 1920, through the three decades of "exceptional cultural and economic vitality" that followed independence from France in 1945, to the 1975 1990 civil war between Muslim and Christian groups that established "corruption as a system of government and a way of life," to the collapse of the banking system in the fall of 2019. Majdalani also details electricity shortages, the absurd gap between black market and official currency exchange rates, and Syrian refugees clogging traffic lanes to beg for diapers for their children. These snapshots of societal dysfunction culminate in the explosion of a port warehouse containing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which Majdalani suggests Hezbollah had been using since 2014 "for military purposes." The author's frustration is palpable, but he takes heart in the "spontaneous movement" of young activists who took to the streets to clear away rubble and "fight against the ruling class." The result is a razor-sharp reckoning with a tragedy decades in the making.