It was months ago now that novelist Hilal Chouman, translator Anna Ziajka Stanton, and ArabLit editor M. Lynx Qualey had a three-city Skype conversation about Chouman’s boundary-pushing novel Limbo Beirut, brought into five different English’s — for its five different Arabics — by Stanton:
Now Qantara has run a roundup of that discussion about life, Limbo, translation, and the state of the Arabic novel. It opens:
″Limbo Beirut″ is mostly set in Beirut in May 2008, when Hezbollah and Sunni fighters clashed in the streets – a frightening after-echo of Lebanon′s fifteen-year civil war.
Yet this novel is not about warfare. As Stanton said in a three-city Skype conversation, ″Limbo Beirut″ is a demand that the reader ″balance in the uneasy space between being a voyeur and a participant, gratifying our desire to get inside the head of that stranger we meet on the street…but on the other hand surprising us with the fact that you can never just be a witness, that you′re always going to somehow become involved in the other′s life, whether you mean to or not.″
As the book unfolds, each of the five stories bumps up against the others. They affect each other in large and small ways, some of which don′t become clear until the final pages.
The first section, illustrated by Fadi Adleh, centres on Walid and his lover Alfred. Here, the street clashes don′t drive the action. Instead, it centres on the accommodations that Walid and Alfred make to the larger society. ″Limbo Beirut″ thus joins a growing number of Arabic novels in which gay men are portrayed as sympathetic, ordinary people, as in Muhammad Abdelnaby′s ″In the Spider′s Room″, or in the background of Iman Humaydan′s ″Other Lives″, translated by Michelle Hartman.