Celebrating Author Jabbour Douaihy (1949-2021) and Publisher Fares Sassine (1947-2021)

On July 23, within a few hours of each other, two literary friends and fellow travelers — gifted and generous Lebanese author Jabbour Douaihy and prominent Lebanese publisher Fares Sassine — died:

Douaihy died after a long illness.

Douaihy will be remembered not only as a gifted stylist and humorist, author of polyphonic multi-layered narratives, most particularly his insightful June Rain (translated to English by Paula Haydar), but as a kind and generous mentor, open with his time, willing to answer questions from marginal critics, emerging writers, and any random freelance journalist who might pester him for a chat.

According to writer Karim Emile Bitar, Fares Sassine passed away just a few hours after Douaihy. Bitar writes, “A brilliant, erudite professor of philosophy, historian and publisher, Fares had started writing an authoritative biography of his longtime companion Ghassan Tueni. RIP dear friends.”

Sassine’s daughter Myriam added, in a thread on Twitter, “There was no topic he couldn’t converse in, from physics to Iranian carpets, philosophy, literature, law… His love for books never kept him at a distance from people. He loved his friends, loved spending time with them and they loved him back.”

Douaihy, for his part, was a multi-award-winning novelist who earned his PhD in Comparative Literature from the Sorbonne and worked as a professor of French literature at the Lebanese University in Beirut. He had an “always-the-shortlistee, never-the-winner” relationship with the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), but never seemed flustered not to win the UAE-based prize. His work has been translated into many languages, and has won prizes in several, including English and French.

His regular English translator was Paula Haydar, who has posted, “One of the greats. Rest In Peace, Jabbour, our friend.”

As an author, Doauihy was obsessed with place, and with layering different points of view to create a portrait of a particular place and time. He wrote deeply about Lebanon, about which he told critic Chiara Comito:  “Lebanon is a country in the process of becoming. Almost every morning.”

Many of Douaihy’s novels have been published in English translation. His most recent, The King. of India, which was also shortlisted for the IPAF, will be published by Interlink in 2022, in Paula Haydar’s translation.

He will also be remembered as an important teacher. The Egyptian novelist Mahmoud Hosny, who worked with Douaihy through an AFAC mentorship program, posted publicly on Facebook about what Douaihy had meant to him:

The wonderful Lebanese novelist Jabbour Douaihy left us today..I was more than lucky to have him as mentor for my first novel project. But Jabbour is more than that for me. He was like a father but without patriarchal. He was like a friend from another life. .Jabbour took care of me as person not just as a writer. I still remember his voice in our discussions in the workshop in Beirut. I still remember the stubbornness in those conversation from both sides, and I still remember him trying to speak in Egyptian dialect to let me know that he is not trying to push me in a path I don’t want. .Our last meeting was when I was signing the novel in Beirut book fair 2018. He was satisfied and relaxed as if it’s his novel that will be signed. .For me, you didn’t leave, Jabbour. For me you just moved our coming conversation to another life.

As Douaihy’s literary agent, Yasmina Jraissati, wrote movingly about their relationship in a post on the agency website: “I do love all your books, each in a different way, I just loved reading you. Even Hayy al amerkan / American neighborhood, about which you would say “Everybody loved American neighborhood but Ms Jraissati.”

Douaihy had wide impact on literary friends, readers, and mentees. As writer Kate Tawil posted on Facebook, “Jabbour Douaihy we are proud to have lived in the same era as you!”

Three to read by Douaihy:

The King of India by Jabbour Douaihy

From the excerpt:

On page 34 of An Eyewitness Account of the Mount Lebanon Crisis, a book about the calamitous events of 1860, published in Alexandria in 1892, it reads:

“People’s intentions have become corrupt, and man’s baser self now thirsts for blood in every corner of the land.The strife found its way to the village of Tel Safra, located fifteen miles east of Beirut and inhabited by Christians and Druze. Fighting broke out between the villagers, and the Christians were not known for their bravery or appetite for battle. Consequently, many were killed in al-‘Abbadiyya and on the road to Zahleh . . .”

Read the full excerpt, translated by Paula Haydar

Chased Away by Jabbour Daouihy

From the excerpt:

Nizam went with Olga to Jounieh Saturday morning in her red and white Mini Cooper. She’d barely finished introducing him when her mother launched her assault. “You just can’t get your fill of handsome young men, can you, Olga?” she shouted, having grown very hard of hearing. 

Read the full excerpt, translated by Paula Haydar

June Rain, by Jabbour Douaihy

From the excerpt

They didn’t tell us what happened until the next day. They let us sleep through Sunday night unawares — upstairs, on the top floor of the east wing, where the smell of the nearby river and the dawn calls of the muezzins entered through the wide open windows. There we distracted ourselves on hot June nights by watching the few cars that passed through the market streets and observing the arguing of the lazy, mischievous, loud-mouthed boys getting back at the diligent kids with thick glasses who teachers were always putting on a pedestal.

Read the full excerpt, translated by Paula Haydar

M Lynx Qualey