‘Beirut Noir’: Chronicling Life in the Corrupt City

The smoke of abandonment permeates Beirut Noir. In this collection of short stories, we find the remains of the crippled, the lonely, the lost, and the dead. They move – or fail to move – through a landscape violently reshaped by fifteen years of civil war. Many of the characters are stuck in an afterlife of one sort or another. Or, if they′re still alive, time has stopped.

This review of the collection — edited by Iman Humaydan and translated by Michelle Hartman — appears on Qantara:

"Beirut Noir": a collection of short stories (published by Akashic Books)″Beirut Noir″ is the latest title in Akashic Books′ signature short-story series, which launched with ″Brooklyn Noir″ in 2004. Akashic has since published dozens more, with a recent move into the Middle East. At least three more regional titles are in the pipeline: ″Baghdad Noir″ (edited by Samuel Shimon), ″Jerusalem Noir″ (edited by Dror Mishani), and ″Marrakech Noir″ (edited by Yassin Adnan).

The fifteen new stories of ″Beirut Noir″ were assembled by Lebanese novelist Iman Humaydan and deftly translated by Michelle Hartman. They were written in all of Lebanon′s three main languages – Arabic, English, and French – and they approach the noir genre in markedly different ways. But they are united by loss: their characters have been left behind after so many countrymen have fled for the Lebanese countryside, Canada, the Gulf, the United States, South America, and Europe.

None of the stories has the linguistic terseness typical of hardboiled noir. But the appeal of noir is not just its tone. It′s how we flip from seeing a corrupt world through the lens of a good-man detective to that of a self-destructive criminal or victim. For this, Beirut works at least as well as Brooklyn. Lebanon′s long civil conflict provides a backdrop of criminality and corruption, and we find its corrosive effects worming through family systems, militias, religious sects, and the government.

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