23 October 2007

Nada Awar Jarrar, Somewhere, Home, 2003

The rarely mentioned centrepiece to Somewhere, Home is the long and bloody civil war that tore Beirut apart from 1975 to 1990, because this novel lies outside the peripheries of the violence and looks at the displacement and continuity of the lives of several ordinary Lebanese women and their families as they are forced to relocate away from Beirut. This was a time when there were probably more Lebanese outside the country than in, so Nada Awar Jarrar obviously has plenty of source material for these invented histories that will probably resonate fairly accurately with the real lives of many exiled Lebanese.

The three stories here, set at different times around Beirut’s civil war, are about three individual women. The first is Maysa who, while expecting a child, relocates herself away from her husband to a large rambling house on the slopes of Mount Lebanon, before he eventually joins her. Then there is Aida who has long since left the country, choosing instead to live in the cultured capitals of Europe, and yet is haunted by the spirit of a murdered Palestinian refugee who finally draws her home after the war ends. Finally we have Salwa, elderly and bed-ridden in an Australian hospital, taken from her homeland when she was a young wife and mother, recalling her old life far from home as her descendants in the wider world move on with their lives with little connection to their ‘home’ country.

Somewhere, Home is often unashamedly sentimental and mostly family-oriented, but the stories are all sufficiently picaresque to beguile the reader into wishing to know more about the characters, context and setting than we are told. A sequel novel to these lives, whether about these particular people or others entirely, would probably also be worth reading, though the tone would probably be equally melancholy.   PY

  Somewhere, Home won the Best First Book Award for Southeast Asia and the South Pacific in 2004.

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