Note: On Monday, I talked about All Men Are Liars, whose characters are all in the writing and publishing business. Wednesday’s book, Alys Always, in contemporary England, also centers on the business of writing. And today we go to Beirut for a year with a freelance writer and editor. It just happens that three books landed on my reading pile that deal quite prominently with writing, reading, and publishing. So it seemed logical to group them together this week.
Destination: Beirut, Lebanon
Book: Jasmine and Fire: A Bittersweet Year in Beirut (New June 2012) by Salma Abdelnour
Book: Day of Honey:A Memoir of Food, Love and War (Org. Feb. 2011, New in paperback 2012) by Annia Ciezadlo
“Day of honey, Day of onions.” Arab proverb.
Other books dissect the causes and results of war in the Middle East. Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War focuses on something more basic–the everyday life of people caught in a war zone and the way that food becomes a survival tool in more ways than simply nutrition.
Most civilians experience war not as the fighters and victims that parade across television screens, but as tired housewives peeling potatoes and wondering, all the while, at the stupidity of it. Being trapped in the house with Umm Hassane [in Beirut with her Lebanese mother-in-law] forced me to experience the awful, humiliating tedium of war without the anesthetic of danger or the narcotic self-importance of risk–to go through it not as a witness, not as a journalist, but as a human being.
Books: The Bible; From Beirut to Jerusalemby Thomas Freidman; Exodus by Leon Uris
Whether your interest runs to history or contemporary geo-politics, Roman ruins or Medieval times, when you travel to Israel, you will find a country that is exasperating, beautiful, inspiring, welcoming and off-putting all at the same time.
Conflict between “tribes” did not start with the founding of the modern state of Israel. The region has been embroiled in struggles since time began. The book that captures the modern conflicts best is Thomas Freidman in From Beirut to Jerusalem. Before his father-knows-best sermons on everything from ecology to world banking made him a best selling author and popular columnist, Friedman was a hard-working journalist who tried to find the truth behind the middle-East conflicts by visiting with a wide variety of people and telling their stories. He delves into the American contribution to the Israeli state and shows that it is not always benign.
As the center of three major religions, Israel has drawn pilgrims for a thousand years.The once mighty Jordan may have shriveled to a mere stream because of siphoning off for farming, but place names like Bethlehem and Jericho took me right back to Sunday School lessons in the little white church in Ohio where I grew up. Unfortunately, I did not have a copy of The Book, the Bible, with me. When I got home I pored over maps and archaeology of the Bible from my father’s library. I used a very old out of print book, but there is a newer one available, on archaeological study of the Bible.
Finally, the birth of the modern state of Israel comes vividly to life in Exodus by Leon Uris, and sheds light on today’s struggles. Since it is now out of print, you can try Amazon or American Book Exchange for a used copy. The movie version starring Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint may be available on Netflix.
Have you been to Israel?What books or movies did you find useful? I would particularly like to have your recommendations for more Bible-related books. My Bible is the Christian one, but I welcome suggestions for religious books that enhance the travel experience for Jews and Muslims as well.