Roberts Quartet, They specifically deal with women at a "point zero," defining what that "point" is in their respective works; and both their protagonists commit an act of violence. Both acts of violence are gestures of self liberation. Here the resemblance ends. While Firdaus' act stems from anger that has been growing in her through years of oppression, Samman's protagonist makes a symbolic gesture, shooting at a ghost.
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Both of us by nature being somewhat sentimental, it becomes easy for me to point out places of personal significance and he to ask about and absorb my memories into his own imagination. Not all of these places are the actual scenes of some past events: departments have shifted, and an entirely new library has been built since I graduated the first time.
Some of the new spaces, it seems, are not conducive to memory transference of any sort: particular experiences, for varying reasons, could never have happened there. Perhaps this is why I have been re-reading much of my past written course work. One such subject was Lebanon, which tended to be known mostly for its war-torn recent past. I am not convinced I agree with the extent to which author Ghada al-Samman takes her analogy, though this is another discussion altogether.
Suffice to say I did have to make my way through a certain amount of history, and the outcome was one of my first of several writings with Lebanon as a central player. It is slightly re-worked as originally it was paired with study of a memoir dealing with the same topic; here it appears as a stand-alone analysis. I selected it today partly because it speaks to place along with that of memory, both topics of interest to me.
The presence of others in the novel is important as it illustrates instances in which a person looks deeply into the mirror of her soul and sees reflected back her own complicated topography as influenced by her sense of place and its population.
All of these factors serve as part of the larger whole; that is, the person she is and the place in which she lives, both mutually influential. The nightmares themselves are numbered and of an odd assortment of lengths, the longest being several pages and shortest consisting of just a few words. Often, the ending of any given nightmare is punctuated with an exclamation point or ellipses, either of which reflects in writing what a dreamer feels when she actually is being released from the grip of a real nightmare—a sudden burst of alertness as she is jolted awake, or merciful wavering as the horror gives way to the seeds of wakefulness.
Moreover, at this time of near social collapse, when many in her land are forced to stare into the same mirror and the reflections themselves cause confusing terror, she recognizes that a complex web weaves individuals and their place together in much the same way that fun-house mirrors reflect many different images of the person staring into them. The only people she has any real contact with—other than her brother, who is later arrested as he attempts to get away from the area with an unlicensed gun for protection—are her neighbor and his son Amin, as well as their servant.
It is ironic, given his preoccupation with the material goods of this life, that it is Amin who first brings the question of place out into the open. Like so much else in Beirut, it is a contradiction. Or is it? Is her craft a powerful enough weapon to fight the terrors outside her window? Or is decibel level an appropriate yardstick to use—faint scratching sound of her pen against the paper versus the sound of bombs falling from the sky—to determine whether arms or words have more might? I [had not] mastered the use of anything other than this skinny little object that went scurrying over the paper between my fingers, leaving quivering lines behind it like the trail of blood left by a wounded man crawling over a field of white cotton… All my revolutions took place and all my slain met their ends in fields strewn with letters of the alphabet and bombshells made of words….
Each struggles to obliterate the other, and within this lays the tragedy that both are fighting for a single goal. Al-Samman also utilizes a series of nature metaphors throughout the novel as a bridge between past and present, and between the awake and dreaming world. Equally beloved and torn asunder, the slain man and Beirut each often serve as a vision that reflects the other, and the narrator proclaims her continuing bond to both, despite all that has occurred:.
He would come down to me out of the mad symphony of death and explosives then come in lacerated with bullets, just as he had been the last time I saw him. The closer he drew me to him, the more deeply the splinters of glass would sink into my own chest. Early on in the novel, the protagonist relates her initial impressions of an assemblage of caged animals who had been abandoned in a nearby pet shop and now are stuck in the midst of the same blockade as she.
Having visited the pet shop in the past and seen the wretched conditions in which the animals lived, existing only to secure a fast and easy means of moneymaking for the shop owner, the narrator reflects at length on their lives.
Observing that some are wounded, she senses that within their quarters lives divisive bitterness, evolved from time spent in terror of their master as well as internecine fighting, when they ought to have united in revolt against their one true enemy, the shop owner.
Like a truly skilled autocrat, however, he has craftily managed to divide in order to conquer:. As I watched one of the peacocks spreading its tail feathers, it occurred to me that he probably looked down upon the other animals. The fools! On the other hand, perhaps they had seen it. In the eyes of every one of these creatures…was a teary-eyed gaze filled with shame, brokenness and dismay, as well as a touch of restless fury.
To her surprise and horror, the birds fail to fly away into the open air, and the dogs simply meander back into their cages after a short bit of wandering through the store. She sees with horrifying clarity behaviors that pass themselves off both as instinctive acts of survival and dreadful amusements perpetrated by boredom and hopelessness. The narrator recognizes herself in others, ordinary residents and sadistic fighters alike.
One nightmare, in which the dreamer sees herself, relates the slow death of a sniper by his own hand as he performs his feats of cunning and torture on a pedestrian. Warming up to the game he plays, he shoots at the ground near the terror-stricken man, and then fires a shot into his hand and his thigh. In his fatigue he thinks he might simply put the dying man out of his misery, but an urge to see his face nudges the sniper to where his victim lay dying:. It was only then that he became aware of the excruciating pain in his bowels and he knew that a long, slow, agonizing death awaited him as well.
After all, his rifle was too long for him to simultaneously put the barrel to his head and reach the trigger. The narrator is not comforted by the contemplation that she ordinarily would not even kill a mosquito, let alone take sick pleasure in causing someone else an excruciatingly slow and painful death.
Nor does she fail to recognize, however, that any of the cast in her terrifying dreams, sadistic sniper included, could be a reflection of herself. In her own boredom she fights the intrusive thoughts that hint of her dark, hidden capabilities. Like both the passer-by and his murderer, the dreamer fights off the cruel combination of terror and boredom, and at one time fleetingly contemplates suicide. In her bouts of hopelessness she would prefer simply to die quickly, rather than live out her numbered days as a prisoner in her own home.
Her death can almost be assured, and yet the agony of not knowing when a stray bullet or rocket might make its way into her flat is as drawn out as that of the pedestrian from the moment the first teasing bullet hit the ground near his feet. Yet her desire to live—not merely survive—is embodied in the small green shoot that she envisions under many different circumstances as it fights for survival.
Appearing throughout the book, the tiny sign of hope is perhaps as small as the bit of compassion demonstrated by the sniper when he momentarily feels mercy for the suffering of the bullet-riddled man.
The two men worry incessantly about their valuables in the house, and refuse to accompany the dreamer on her hoped-for military rescue because they are afraid of thieves plundering the flat in their absence. She argues over the matter with Amin, who accuses her of acting in the same manner with regard to her extensive and much-loved book collection. Looters would not bother with books: there is no re-sale market for them and they are, in any case, far too heavy to bother with.
To lose the books would be like losing a piece of herself. A part of her would die, much the same way she dies one piece at a time as Beirut slowly dies around her. Like the people and events in her city that cause her to look inward, to face the mirror of her soul, the narrator sees within her preoccupation with her books and their fate truths that had lain dormant and hidden, much like the truths behind the very war she and her fellow Beirutis now live in the midst of had.
Eventually, the fear that looms largest for the narrator comes to pass; her books and the rest of her home are utterly and entirely destroyed after her third-floor flat, always the most vulnerable, suffers a direct hit from an incoming rocket. From this point on, there is a discernable change in the mood of the text. What the narrator has been holding onto with such tenacity was her city and her very self. Each time Yousif appears to her she envisions her city and the destruction it faces, and the very fusion of the two in her nightmares reflects this threat of loss of self in the midst of the chaos surrounding her.
As her home stands on the dividing line between the warring factions—and she often speaks of living on the dividing line between life and death—the narrator too exists in a place in which she fears her loyalties must be divided. She desperately wants to live, and yet fears that survival and the act of moving on would cause her to lose all she has left of Yousif and Beirut.
She recalls that in the past she had always risen from the ashes, and that the present point zero might indeed be a time of joy for her because in the past she had chosen to see it as a point of departure rather than a loss:. I have lifted you up, my child, to shield you not from defeat but from surrender. In so recalling the struggles faced in the past both by Beirut and herself, she regains the firm footing of her resolve, and the awareness that light might come into the different prisons of life only if their walls are bored through by explosives, metaphorical or actual.
After a military rescue finally does come through, she takes with her the small orange bag and these renewed realizations. It is after this final act of death that she is able to be re-born, and as she gazes over her beloved city she sees absolute beauty in Beirut contradictions: the sun is shining as rain pours from the sky.
As the sunlight pushes its way past the clouds, the dreamer envisions hope for her own future and that of Beirut, and in order to get a better view to the sight, she lowers her head and closes her eyes.
For years societal injustices had been observed and blatantly ignored, damaging not only those they had directly affected but also the lives of others by virtue of those persons bearing witness to such injustices and the reactions of those around them—a two-way mirror that reflected perceptions of self and others. Moreover, where the narrator comes from directly correlates to the geographical location she hails from; combined with the mirrors and bouncing, refracting light in society, a sense of place develops that becomes a part of the person or group and is a substantial portion of identity.
The dreamer is a woman who traveled to and lived in several other places before returning to Beirut and its wars within—the wars of thousands of people who struggle between selves old and new as another war rages outside on the city streets. The deconstruction and rebuilding of the self occurs, a painful process in which she sees reflections of herself in everything around her—events, language, attitudes—and the destruction and chaos surrounding her is reflected in her own self.
She must undergo a death before she can experience a re-birth and envision a brighter future. Through nightmares both surreal and frightening she examines her life past and present. Literally and figuratively walls are torn down, and it is following the loss of her home that she realizes the only true home she has is her own body: the creativity and consciousness that dwell inside her provide the strength to insist that the small green shoot of hope exists in the midst of all this devastation.
To me Beirut always has been a special place in a double sense. A real one with a great and somehow ambivalent history and a fictituous one. A momentum, where East meets West. A melodramatic stage.
In fact the story turned out a kinda ignition key to my silly memories. There were times, when the French chanson influenced a specifical style of Arab popular music. Think of Feirooz for instance. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account. Notify me of new comments via email. Notify me of new posts via email. Roland Clarke shares his thoughts as he fights MonSters to turn his words into cliffhangers.
Tastellers, sommeliers, dreamers made in Florence. Spreading food love across the World Skip to content. Equally beloved and torn asunder, the slain man and Beirut each often serve as a vision that reflects the other, and the narrator proclaims her continuing bond to both, despite all that has occurred: He would come down to me out of the mad symphony of death and explosives then come in lacerated with bullets, just as he had been the last time I saw him.
Like a truly skilled autocrat, however, he has craftily managed to divide in order to conquer: As I watched one of the peacocks spreading its tail feathers, it occurred to me that he probably looked down upon the other animals. Share this: Twitter Facebook. Like this: Like Loading July 8, at Reply. Leave a Reply Cancel reply Enter your comment here Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:.
Both of us by nature being somewhat sentimental, it becomes easy for me to point out places of personal significance and he to ask about and absorb my memories into his own imagination. Not all of these places are the actual scenes of some past events: departments have shifted, and an entirely new library has been built since I graduated the first time. Some of the new spaces, it seems, are not conducive to memory transference of any sort: particular experiences, for varying reasons, could never have happened there. Perhaps this is why I have been re-reading much of my past written course work. One such subject was Lebanon, which tended to be known mostly for its war-torn recent past.
"Woman at Point Zero": A Bid for Survival, a Review of Ghada Samman's 'Beirut Nightmares'
Beirut Nightmares: Place and Identity in War Literature
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