Review by Sana Daher
In his debut novel, Bakhti captures the essence of a typical Lebanese youth’s experiences living in contemporary post-war Beirut. In doing so, the author captures a unique viewpoint and uncovered ground in English literature. Written in English, Between Beirut and the Moon exposes some of the unique social and religious peculiarities of contemporary Lebanese society in a bold and very realistic story.
The novel’s narrator, Adam, dreams of being an astronaut, but his bibliophile and eulogy-writing journalist father insists that his son is being ridiculous. “Who ever heard of an Arab on the moon?” Adam, a Lebanese teen born from a mixed marriage (between a Muslim father and a Christian mother), shares stories of his life and struggles at home and school. These episodes sway between laughable encounters, reflective moments, and near death experiences.
Bakhti expertly portrays the cliched Lebanese society, with all its contrasts and absurdities. He chooses to familiarize the reader with the novel’s setting by infusing it with humorous lessons in colloquial Lebanese expressions, and some of its recent history and questionable politics, helping the reader with some background information on this often misunderstood country.
I found the disjointed narration of this novel a challenge at first, but somehow the pieces came together to paint a familiar picture, one that I believe the author had in mind in writing this novel. Mine was a picture of a young adult living in agony and despair in his country of birth, living a life plagued with envisioned intrinsic disadvantages, brought upon by their troubled war-affected parents and significant others, and desperately trying to fight that or forever flee. Having learned that Bakhti himself is a son of a mixed faith marriage, makes me think of this novel as a sort of bildungsroman and somehow almost reads like a memoir. Bakhti uses cheeky yet sometimes bitter humor to realistically evoke Adam’s feelings and attitude throughout, making this book an easy and light read.
As a child of the Lebanese war myself, I fully understand Adam’s situation. I can confidently say that this has been the life of recent generations of scarred Lebanese time and again. This novel depicts the frustration of trying to remove oneself from this perplexing state of affairs in this perpetually troubled part of the world. Leaving or remaining, a choice almost every Lebanese considers from the minute he/she opens their eyes to the world, just like Bakhti’s Adam!
Publisher: Influx Press (U.K.), 2020
You can purchase this book here.
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About the author:
A. Naji Bakhti, born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, studied English Literature (2011) at the American University of Beirut, and holds a master’s degree in Creative Writing (2012) from the University of Westminster, and a Ph.D. in Creative Writing (2018) from Lancaster University. Between Beirut and the Moon is his debut novel.
Here is an interview with A. Naji Bakhti from The London Magazine and a book review from the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Interesting fact! This novel started out as the author’s thesis that culminated in his doctoral degree in creative writing from Lancaster University.
Reviewer: Sana Daher
Sana Daher is a Lebanese librarian and interior designer living and working in Dubai. Sana was born and raised in Lebanon throughout the Lebanese civil war, but completed her schooling and bachelor’s degree in Interior Design in London and her master degree in library and information science at Drexel University. She is passionate about the role of libraries in building stronger communities and as catalysts for peace and prosperity in disadvantaged and developing countries.
Curator of the second #IntlYALitMonth at Global Literature in Libraries Initiative:
Linda Hoiseth is the high school librarian at the American School of Dubai (where she’s lucky enough to work with Sana Daher) and has previously worked at schools in the US, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Poland, Peru, Qatar, and India. She has a B.S. in English and Secondary Education, an M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction, and a graduate certificate in School Library Media. She’s currently a member of the ECIS Libraries Special Interest Group committee. She’s a fierce advocate for all students to have access to all the books. Follow her on Twitter.