Our Man in Beirut by Nasri Atallah

Review by Marina Chamma.

When I first heard of Our Man in Beirut some months ago, I thought I had stumbled upon the latest spy novel in town. With Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana as inspiration, I didn’t think it would be very difficult for anyone to use Beirut as a backdrop for a novel of spies, deceit and a blurred line between illusion and reality. When I realized it was a blog of a returning Lebanese expat, whose posts I realized where being shared by many friends on Facebook, I rushed to find out what the fuss was all about.

 

Launched in 2009, Our Man in Beirut, aka Nasri Atallah, armed with a keen sense of observation, unconstrained sense of humor and a large dose of cynicism, tries to make sense of what Beirut gladly throws at him after years of living in London.  The blog is about everything a Lebanese expat, and anybody crazy enough to decide to live here, learns to deal with upon returning to the homeland, and a lot of what those living here take for granted. Our Man in Beirut, the book is a selection of 35 blog posts, whose name I soon discovered was meant to reproduce that of a foreign correspondent rather than of the exotic spy I had imagined.  “Plus” says Atallah, “it kind of encapsulated the feeling I had of being both foreign and local at the same time.”

If you have been following the blog, this book will help you relive all the laughs, frustrations and head nodding you had when first reading each post.  If you have never read anything by Atallah before, this book gathers the best of what has made the blog so popular.

From his funny guide to becoming Lebanese, his serious take on Lebanese racism and superficiality, to the love for the city that “cares about you” and its hidden cultural gems that makes us stay, as well as the other reasons pushing us to head straight to the airport and leave everything behind. Some comments may come as a bit too harsh against a people who have not fully nor appropriately, in my opinion, healed from the war.  But then again, that needs serious research, something this book explicitly notes it stays away from!  Pictures of undiscovered side streets and almost impossible to find facades sprinkled throughout the book, remind us not only of how much of Beirut’s beauty we often ignore, but how this part of the city’s history is being summarily mutilated, replaced with superficial and soulless structures, ripping the city of the life it has always been known for, in the name of modernity.

Our Man in Beirut shouldn’t be the first book to give your friends about Lebanon, but half way through their experience, so that they feel comforted that everything they’ve been going through wasn’t a bad and unexplainable dream. While for the locals, read it for the virtue of laughing at yourselves and to be comforted that you aren’t alone in loving and hating this oh so lovely little piece of heaven of ours…

Our Man In Beirut on Facebook.

Buy Our Man In Beirut online.

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