Lebanese Anglophone Diasporic Literature

Literary/ Cultural Context Essay

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Beginnings, Trajectories, and Groupings

When Tony Hanania’s debut novel Homesick came out in 1997, neither he nor anyone else could have foreseen that two decades later it would be deemed a pioneering work in the canon of post-civil war, i.e., post-1990 Anglophone Lebanese diasporic literature. While Lebanon’s history of emigration started in the 1880s, the contemporary literary wave, resulting from mass relocations to English-speaking countries during the fifteen-year (1975–1990) Lebanese Civil War, is a new-fangled cultural and artistic trend with unique characteristics. It started sixty-five years after the end of the literary movement of Al-Mahjar (diaspora), comprised of mostly Lebanese authors who founded, in 1920, the New York Pen League of Arab poets (al-Rabiṭah al-qalamiyah), the first Arab-American literary society. This association included, notably, Gibran Khalil Gibran (its president), Ameen Rihani, Mikhail Naimy, Elia Abu Madi, and Rachid Ayoub, the first two of whom wrote in both Arabic and English, and dissolved following Gibran’s death in 1931 and Naimy’s return to Lebanon in 1932. Unlike the Pen League affiliates, current diasporic authors of Lebanese origin do not (necessarily) consider themselves as group members with common traits and comparable attitudes. 

The Lebanese Civil War erupted on 13 April 1975. The Ta’if Accord of 22 October 1989 is customarily cited as the reason for the end of hostilities the following year. Memorialization, operating on both public and private levels, is essential to any process of political and social reconciliation following a national trauma such as the Lebanese Civil War. Although there have been monumental efforts since the mid-2000s, as Sune Haugbolle (2010) and Craig Larkin (2012) show, to counteract official amnesia, it has been mainly the cultural workers – writers, filmmakers, documentary-makers, photographers, installation artists, musicians, and dancers – who have proudly and consistently done so. Since 1997, well over forty literary texts by authors of Lebanese descent, many reaping international awards, have appeared, eliciting, in tandem, an ever-increasing body of work by scholars in multiple areas of interest and expertise.

In addition to numerous established and emergent authors writing, mostly but not exclusively in Arabic, in Lebanon, a large number of Lebanese writers reside and publish beyond Lebanon’s geographical and linguistic boundaries. An outlier in the Lebanese variant of Arab Anglophone literature worth mentioning is Rima Alamuddin, the first Lebanese woman to produce fiction in English: Spring to Summer (1960) and The Sun is Silent (1964), the latter published posthumously. Interestingly, between the early 1960s and 1990, the year in which Jean Said Makdisi’s Beirut Fragments: A War Memoir was published, and since then until 1997, no other Anglophone Lebanese texts appeared. Since 1997, however, novels, short story collections, autobiographies, and memoirs have emerged in mainly four western countries – the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia – and have had, as their authors become increasingly aware of one another but also of their own rising eminence, a snowball effect. These texts, along with their protagonists, express cultural hybridity, including code-switching between English and Arabic (and even French), thus occupying “a place where both home and host cultures converge, intersect, and even clash, resulting in a third culture, which situates itself in a third space which is that of the Diaspora” (Salhi 2006, 3–4). Those born between the late 1950s and the mid-1970s constitute a particular and somewhat cohesive ‘generation’ for many reasons: they all possess at least a few vivid memories of the civil war years juxtaposed with exilic and diasporic experiences in their English-language fictions which are occasionally tinged with autobiographical overtones. Most reputable among Anglophone Lebanese diasporic authors are Rabih Alameddine, Rawi Hage, Nada Awar Jarrar (who repatriated in 1995), Tony Hanania, Patricia Sarrafian Ward, Abbas El-Zein, Dimitri Nasrallah, Nathalie Abi-Ezzi, Thérèse Soukar Chehade, and Salma Abdelnour.

Displaying an array of subgenres, styles, and formats, these texts are nonetheless preoccupied with a search for and/or a redefinition of home within the poetics and politics of physical and affective movements and border crossings. This overarching yet personalized quest is oftentimes expressed in relation to intersecting discourses on memory, nationalism, exile versus diaspora, trauma, and militarization (of impoverished Lebanese adolescents). These subthemes overlap in different proportions. In Alameddine’s early fictions, Koolaids: The Art of War (1998) and The Perv: Stories (1999), and in his most recent one, The Angel of History (2016), being gay and more often than not dying of AIDS in the US complicates his male protagonists’ conflictual relationships with their conservative fathers specifically and with their original societies generally. Hage’s De Niro’s Game (2006) and Cockroach (2008), Ward’s The Bullet Collection (2003), and Hanania’s Homesick, Unreal City (1999) and Eros Island (2000), deal with homeness in the contexts of militarization, colonization, political extremism, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, rape, exile, self-mutilation, and suicide attempts. Jarrar’s four novels – Somewhere, Home (2003), Dreams of Water (2007), A Good Land (2009), and An Unsafe Haven (2016) – and Abdelnour’s memoir, Jasmine and Fire: A Bittersweet Year in Beirut (2012), grapple largely with the advantages and disadvantages of repatriation. Abi-Ezzi’s A Girl Made of Dust (2008) and El-Zein’s Tell the Running Water (2001) and Leave to Remain: A Memoir (2009) focus on growing up in war zones and a divided capital. Chehade’s Loom (2010) and Nasrallah’s Blackbodying (2004) and Niko (2011) zero in on the routes and adaptations of Lebanese emigrants to the US and Canada, respectively. In sharing a generation-specific awareness of a dichotomous existence, a life split between the host/adoptive country and war-torn Lebanon, these fictions demonstrate scenarios which range from eagerly hunting for to being disturbingly haunted by Lebanon-as-home. These permutations of homeness broaden and complicate Lebanese identity in the twenty-first century.

Albeit not members of what may be designated as a group due to their older age, yet enormously significant in their own right not only for producing but also for spreading Anglophone Arab intellectual and aesthetic output are Beirut-born, Paris- and California-based Etel Adnan (b. 1925) and the late London-based Mai Ghoussoub (b. 1952). As visual artists, activists, and versatile writers, both have worked in a variety of media, and across continents and languages, exploring themes of war, love, identity, and memory. Ghoussoub also co-founded Saqi Books in 1979, the first London bookshop to specialize in Arabic works.

As already mentioned, not all Anglophone Lebanese writers reside abroad. Belonging to different generations and writing in several genres and sometimes even in more than one language are Lebanon-based Jad el Hage – who wrote The Last Migration (2002), The Myrtle Tree (2007), and One Day in April (2011), as well as several Arabic-language texts – Jean Said Makdisi, Zena el Khalil, Joumana Haddad, Mishka Mojabber Mourani, Fares Aoun, Hanna Abi Akl, Dana Kamal Mills, Dania El-Kadi (who writes also in French and Arabic), and short story writer, journalist, and translator Lina Mounzer, currently working on her first novel. Logically, these authors deal much less, if at all, with the pains and joys of diaspora-generated cultural hybridity, covering instead miscellaneous topics inspired by living ‘at home’. While these authors occupy one end (Lebanon) of the geographical spectrum, and the diasporic ones – whose childhoods and adolescent years were spent in war-shattered Lebanon before they departed – populate the middle because of their movements (at least in their writings) between Lebanon and multiple western sites, American or Canadian authors of Lebanese extraction, i.e., second- or more-generation Lebanese immigrant writers, inhabit the opposite end. For the last group, Lebanon is more of a distant emotional or cultural archive than a tangible place still looming large in the diasporic/exilic characters’ psyches. Distinguished among these are Joseph Geha, who left Lebanon at the age of two in 1946, and has authored, in addition to poems, plays, and essays, Through and Through: Toledo Stories (1990), one of the first seminal works of modern Arab American fiction, and Lebanese Blonde (2012); Evelyn Shakir, born to Lebanese US immigrants and a scholar of Arab American literature, who wrote Bint Arab: Arab and Arab American Women in the United States (1997), Remember Me to Lebanon: Stories of Lebanese Women in America (2007), a short story collection that won the Arab American National Book Award, and Teaching Arabs, Writing Self: Memoirs of an Arab-American Woman (2014); Manaus-born Milton Hatoum, one of Brazil’s most eminent contemporary novelists, who has authored numerous texts, for example, Tale of a Certain Orient (1989), The Tree of the Seventh Heaven (1994), The Brothers (2000), Ashes of the Amazon (2005), Orphans of Eldorado (2008), and Other Carnivals: New Stories from Brazil (2013); Marwan Hassan, who has written The Confusion of Stones: Two Novellas (1989), The Memory Garden of Miguel Carranza (1991), The Lost Patent (2004), and As the Crow Dies (2005); and more recently, Ottawa-born Sonia Saikaley, whose novel The Lebanese Dishwasher co-won the 2012 Ken Klonsky Novella Contest. For her forthcoming novel, Jasmine Season on Hamra Street, whose title indicates the famous commercial Hamra Street in Beirut as its main setting, Saikaley has been awarded an Ontario Arts Council grant.

On Writing in English

Since Lebanese diasporic communities are the largest groups of Arab immigrants (Abdelhady 2011, 5) – with 1.2 million Lebanese having left between 1975 and 2007 (“Center” 2008, 3) – three facts pertain to post-war Lebanese literary output. First, Lebanese literature was never post-colonial, and French was never used as its post-colonial language. Many Lebanese intellectuals wrote in French even before the French Mandate, which began in 1919. So the use of French, exactly like that of English, has always been and still is selective and based on education, location, and/or class, and not forced as a result of colonialism and/or migration. English, in particular, which has superseded French in Lebanon since the mid-1990s, results mostly from an upper-class western education in the context of late twentieth-century and twenty-first-century globalization. Second, contemporary Anglophone Lebanese literature, almost all of which is produced in the diaspora, is a much more recent phenomenon than its Francophone counterpart, which flourished after 1975 when many authors, like Amin Maalouf, Ghassan Fawaz, Dominique Eddé, and Alexandre Najjar, emigrated to Paris. Younger France-based Lebanese artists now also include novelist Georgia Makhlouf and graphic novelists Lamia Ziadé and Zeina Abirached. Third, the Lebanese variant is the most recent corpus within Anglophone Arab literature that has flourished in the last fifty years (Al Maleh 2009, 21). As Norman Saadi Nikro (2007) argues, English has been a main characteristic of Lebanon’s cultural life since the mid-1990s, echoing Yasir Suleiman’s clarification that “Arabic literature is but one of the literatures within the Lebanese literary scene” (2006, 18). Rawi Hage declares: “I am a first-generation Arab Canadian or Québécois” (2007, 7); “I kind of became an Anglophone” after also having lived in New York City (quoted in Waters, 2006, par. 6). He explains further: “Language is not an ideology for me, it’s just a tool like photography to express (myself)” (quoted in Stoffman 2006, par. 20).

Diasporic Consciousness as an Expression of Transnationalism

In reference to Lebanese transnationalism, Suad Joseph notes that “[n]either bifocality, nor interculturalism […] nor multiculturalism, nor hybridity captures the cultural fluidity that maps Lebanese social life” (2009, 140). Unlike homegrown Lebanese literature written in English, on the one hand, and typically Arab American and/or Arab Canadian writings, on the other, diasporic Anglophone literature by those who came of age or matured during the war years is distinctly transnational because, being “place-polygamous”, it is “glocal”, to use two terms coined by the German theoretician of globalization Ulrich Beck (quoted in Pflitsch, 2004, “Einleitung”, 193, 191). For example, Steven Salaita describes Alameddine’s Koolaids, a structurally complex text delivering an even-handed critique of western and eastern mores, as “a milestone in the modern Arab American literary tradition” (2007, 73), partly because it internationalizes the portrayal of the Lebanese Civil War. Andreas Pflitsch employs the German term Ausserhalbbefindlichkeit (state of outside-ness, author’s translation) to describe the advantage enjoyed by foreign-language Lebanese authors in reflecting (on) war-related and diasporic experiences from a geographically and temporally distant vantage point (2008, 1177). The fact that they enrich Lebanese literature not only by writing in a foreign language but also by doing so from a new perspective that allows them to look afresh at recent Lebanese history, he argues, endows this group with a “double state of outside-ness” (2005, 14, author’s translation). Pflitsch has celebrated an “entirely new tone” (2004, “Britisch-libanesische”, 251) of then young Anglophone and Francophone writers from Lebanon distinguished by their deflating of two myths: the return to a golden age of a pre-war Lebanon, and the unquestioning imitation of an allegedly superior western lifestyle; as he puts it: “Nothing is holy to them” (251–2). Displaced Lebanese characters neither idealize their country of origin, nor shed their past to embrace wholeheartedly a western mode of living. Instead, cultural hybridity typifies this literature and manifests itself not only on the levels of languages, settings, and themes, but most conspicuously in a state, or a predicament, of in-betweenness that reflects a complex (self-)awareness differentiated by mixed modes and moods, such as nostalgia, topophilia, irony, parody, and satire, thus ranging from homesickness all the way to sickness of home.

Although artistic production provides writers with the necessary narrative space to represent a collective but also possibly a personal unassimilated trauma, it is important to distinguish between the authors’ own psychic entanglements and those of the narrators/ protagonists. While many of their characters are stranded and feel lost between cultures – showcasing what Edward Said calls a “contrapuntal consciousness”, that is, the inevitable double or plural visions due to awareness of two or more cultures (1994, 366) – the writers themselves are transcultural, often illustrating in interviews how cultural divides have been surmounted in their private but also intellectual lives. Speaking of Montreal, where he has lived since 1992, Rawi Hage, asserts, on the one hand: “This is home. Finally” (quoted in Salvador, 2006, par. 26). On the other, he sees himself as a “traveller” who was, “fortunately, bound to become a global citizen” (2008, n. pag.). He believes that his novels are, among other things, “a satire of nationalisms” which “appeal[s] to a global – and not a globalized – audience” (quoted in Sakr 2011, 346). Rabih Alameddine refuses the hyphenated identity label of Arab-American, stating: “I am American and I am Lebanese and I am Arab” (2008, E-mail interview). Patricia Ward asserts that although the Lebanese-American label would fit her the most, she does not necessarily see herself as a Lebanese-American author because of the diversity of the media and genres in which she works (2008, E-mail interview). She adds: “I don’t know what I am other than being a writer […] I have come to realize [that] my past of war and loss is a thread I pull through every tale; maybe that is a kind of identity” (http://archive.aramcoworld.com). Regardless of their self-designations, all of these authors confirm their affiliation with Lebanon as a source of unceasing artistic stimulation. As such, their novels continue to inform and enrich the cultural history of Lebanon and its wars.

Notwithstanding sporadic descriptions of wartime events, none of the Anglophone Lebanese novels claim to be historical or realist fictions. They concentrate not on narrating/ describing the conflict, that is, on the what, when, and where of actual events, but rather on when, how, and why carefully chosen war-related facts and experiences are recalled and by whom. On many occasions, Alameddine and Hage have asserted their mission as writers in combating state-sponsored silence about Lebanon’s war(s), thereby also stressing the weight of their characters’ excavations of memories. In the opinion of the former, departing is not necessarily “an attempt to escape the past, but to escape oneself” because by leaving one gains “a distance of both space and time, which is essential for writing about family or home” (https://www.bestquotecollection.com). As in the case of most diasporic fictions, redefining home, whether in connection with or separately from the family and the nation, is a hallmark of these Lebanese fictions. Patricia Ward says: “It’s hard to say […] where the truth ends and the fiction begins”, yet The Bullet Collection “speaks truthfully about growing up in war, suffering from depression, and what it is like to leave one’s homeland”; in this sense, it is “as ‘true’ as nonfiction” (2008, E-mail interview). Rawi Hage states: “Some things I lived through, some I heard about, some are purely imagined […] I’d like to keep the ambiguity” (quoted in Stoffman 2006, par. 3). In short, these texts generate room for a staging of exilic/diasporic experiences to take place within many of the characters’ troubled minds as well as within battle-scarred Lebanon, new countries, and/or post-war peaceful Lebanon. In many ways, they may be read as representations of imaginative returns, as a body of narratives generated out of specific, sometimes even intensely personal experiences, each contributing in its own manner to the collective effort to memorialize a controversial and still hugely suppressed history of the civil war and its physical and emotional repercussions for a specific generation.

International Recognition: Awards and Translations

Many Anglophone Lebanese diasporic writers have received international awards. Hage won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for De Niro’s Game in June 2008 and the Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Cockroach also in 2008. Ward won the Hala Maksoud Award for Outstanding Emerging Writer at the first RAWI (Radius of Arab-American Writers, Incorporated) conference for The Bullet Collection in June 2005. Jarrar won the Commonwealth Best First Book Award for the South-East Asia and Pacific region for Somewhere, Home in 2004. Jarrar’s A Good Land was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (from South East Asia and Pacific). Abi-Ezzi’s A Girl Made of Dust was shortlisted for the 2008 Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award, the 2009 Waverton Good Read Award, and the 2009 Desmond Elliott Prize. The film script adaptation of Abi-Ezzi’s novel (by Steve Hawes and Monica Solon) was shortlisted for the Shasha Grant (offered by the Abu Dhabi Film Commission’s international screenwriting competition), and the film will be released in 2017. A Girl Made of Dust, Alameddine’s The Hakawati (2009), and Cockroach were on the long list for the 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Homesick was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman (2013) won both the 2014 Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Award and the 2014 California Book Award; it was also a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award, the 2015 PEN Open Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award; it was also long-listed for the 2017 International Dublin Literary Award. In 2016, Alameddine was awarded the Prix Femina Etranger for Les Vies de papier (the French version of An Unnecessary Woman, translated by Nicolas Richard), which had also appeared in Spanish and Norwegian in 2012 before it did in the original English. The Angel of History was longlisted for an Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence. Before he reached international renown, Alameddine was also a 2002 Guggenheim fellow. Chehade’s Loom won the 2011 Arab American Book Award. Nasrallah’s Niko won the 2011 Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction and was long-listed for the 2013 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award while his Blackbodying won the McAuslan First Book Award and was a finalist for the Grand Prix du Livre de Montréal. His short fiction has won the 2006 CBC Quebec Writing Competition while his literary journalism has appeared in The Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, Montreal Gazette, and Montreal Review of Books. El-Zein’s Leave to Remain won the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award in 2010.

In the last few years, new authors have emerged: Saleem Haddad and Karim Dimechkie, authors, respectively, of Guapa (2016) – long-listed for the 2017 Polari First Book Prize – and Lifted by the Great Nothing (2015) – with honorable mention received from the 2016 PEN/ Hemingway Award. Both examples of a Bildungsroman which also touch upon Arab male homosexuality, the former follows the life of an American-educated gay Syrian activist in the midst of Arab Spring violence while the latter depicts a young Lebanese American’s journey to post-war Lebanon to come to terms with his father’s homosexuality and his mother’s political involvement in Lebanon’s violent past.

Although fiction remains the dominant genre in Anglophone Lebanese writing, poetry, equally dealing with the war and its aftereffects, has had its recognizable share. Prominent is Dubai-based Zeina Hashem Beck, who received the 2013 Backwaters Prize for her poetry collection To Live in Autumn (2014), the 2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize for 3arabi Song (2016), the 2016 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize for Louder than Hearts (2017), and a citation as one of the “Best of the New Year 2017” in The Washington Independent Review of Books for her chapbook There Was and How Much There Was (2016). Another rising talent is Rewa Zeinati, author of Bullets & Orchids (2013), a poetry chapbook, and Nietzsche’s Camel Must Die: An Invitation to Say ‘No’ (2013), a creative nonfiction book; she is also the founding editor and editor-in-chief of the biannual online magazine Sukoon: Arab-Themed Art & Literature (since 2013), which advertises its mission as “carv[ing] out a comfortable and necessary space for the Arab narrative within the Anglophone literary landscape” (http://www.sukoonmag.com). In addition, new voices across genres can be found in Rusted Radishes: Beirut Literary and Art Journal published annually, since 2012, by the American University of Beirut.

In addition to awards, translations contribute enormously to international stature. The two most widely translated authors are Rawi Hage and Rabih Alameddine, who by all measures enjoy today a universal reputation with their books specified as must-reads in courses on Anglophone Arab or Middle Eastern literatures offered on colleges and universities around the world. Hage’s and Alameddine’s novels have been translated into about thirty languages. However, thanks to Alameddine’s daring renderings of incestuous and homosexual encounters, only I, the Divine: A Novel in First Chapters (2001) has (so far) been translated into Arabic. Single works by many-time novelists have also been translated; for example: Somewhere, Home (into German), A Girl Made of Dust (into Spanish), Niko (into Turkish), and Zena el Khalil’s memoir Beirut, I Love You (2009) (into Spanish and Portuguese).

Scholarship Today: Growing Apace

Scholarship on post-war Anglophone Lebanese literature started off with reviews of novels fresh off the press and a few articles, published in journals and edited volumes alike, before it reached, concurrently with the ever-growing corpus it studies, a critical mass. The first comprehensive and comparative study which defined this body of writings as a new movement was my 2012 Post-War Anglophone Lebanese Fiction, which argues that contemporary Anglophone Lebanese narratives embody a generation-specific transculturality visible in the depictions of male and female characters’ literal and figurative movements from and back to war-ravaged and/or post-war Lebanon, and of their processes of remembering and thus confronting traumatic events.  Furthermore, these movements and processes are propelled, whether consciously or not, by a strong desire to find/found old or new homes. As the case may be, these homes corresponded to different entities: Lebanon as a nation, a utopian/romanticized notion, a specific dwelling place, a host country, an irretrievable pre-war childhood, a state of in-between dwelling, a portable or changeable state of mind, and/or the narrative itself as homecoming.

Literary critics have contributed significantly in recent years to our appreciation of this corpus – whether directly or not, and sometimes in comparison/juxtaposition to other media, like Lebanese films, non-English-language Lebanese writings, and/or other cognate Arab(ic) works. They include, notably, Saree Makdisi, Elise Salem, Norman Saadi Nikro, Ken Seigneurie, miriam cooke, Samira Aghacy, Ghenwa Hayek, Lindsey Moore, Andreas Pflitsch, Roseanne Khalaf, Jumana Bayeh, Michelle Hartman, and Felix Lang. Adopting neoliberal, postcolonial, diasporic, feminist, psycho-analytical, and queer perspectives, many studies have been devoted to Alameddine’s and Hage’s works. Steven Salaita, Carol Fadda-Conrey, Waïl S. Hassan, Therí Pickens, and others, focus on the former’s oeuvre within the (Arab) American literary-historical context and/or in conjunction with specific discourses and theories, such as theology, phenomenology, gay, AIDS, and disability studies. Increasing scholarly attention to Hage’s fiction centers mostly on his characters’ (trauma-induced) exilic experiences in multicultural Canada. 

The Future of Anglophone Lebanese Diasporic Literature

Since Lebanon has witnessed a major bout of international warfare and endured enormous suffering during and following Israel’s war on Lebanon in the 33-Day War in July-August 2006, it seems only natural to speculate on the extent to which this newer round of violence, itself already over a decade old, might influence, if not redirect, diasporic Lebanese writing. Besides numerous Arabic-language authors, a handful of Anglophone ones, namely Alameddine, Jarrar, El-Zein, and el Khalil, have incorporated this brutal episode in at least one of their (more recent) works. While An Unnecessary Woman mentions the summer 2006 war but does not dwell on it – perhaps because the septuagenarian protagonist Aaliya Saleh has weathered too many conflicts to be overly concerned with any one in particular – A Good Land and Leave to Remain allocate specific chapters to it. Beirut, I Love You is exceptional because the July 2006 War permeates its pages and largely colors the narrator’s experiences. Alameddine’s and Jarrar’s 2016 novels mention the July 2006 War in passing.

Wars aside, another equally challenging question is the following: for how long might Lebanon, whether as a nation or a notion, continue to exert a discernible influence on diasporic authors’ literary creations? The answer is, so far, unclear. For example, if viewed in order of appearance, Hage’s three novels demonstrate, increasingly, a movement away from Lebanon; in fact, Carnival (2012) has no connection whatsoever to Lebanon. Whether his fourth novel will ‘revisit’ the author’s birthplace is yet to be revealed. In Alameddine’s six and Jarrar’s four works of fiction to date, by contrast, Lebanon and its bittersweet memories are omnipresent. Although half-Lebanese, Alameddine’s protagonist Jacob in The Angel of History is much more globe-trotting, and therefore ‘universal’ in his appeal and concerns, than the author’s earlier Lebanon-bound, if no longer Lebanon-based, characters. In shedding light on the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon, Jarrar’s An Unsafe Haven showcases (aspects of) Lebanese society today. In El-Zein’s last work, The Secret Maker of the World (2014), only one of his stories, which portrays a sniper, has for its setting Lebanon’s civil war period. Ward’s acclaimed second novel, Skinner Luce (2016), a dystopian example of literary science fiction, steers clear of the known world altogether.

Nonetheless, the vast majority of Anglophone Lebanese narratives continue to display sustained efforts at (re)defining home without delivering a single and straightforward definition thereof. Instead, as characters migrate from childhood to adulthood, from peace to war, and in most instances, from Lebanon to elsewhere, and sometimes from elsewhere back to Lebanon, numerous semantic permutations of homeness are available. Until now, the unfinished trauma of Lebanon’s hard-hitting experience for those who do remember, however little or diluted that may be, has predictably been showing its poetic, often post-traumatic, symptoms in the post-1990 and/or the post-2006 phases. If anything, the July 2006 War has brought back terrifying memories to those old enough during the earlier mayhem. In a nutshell, Anglophone Lebanese diasporic texts have contributed immensely to battling official avoidance of the topics of the civil war and, to a lesser extent, of the July 2006 War in both Lebanese political discourse and in the (still) highly sectarian and divided Lebanese society.

Marianne Hirsch argues that literature based solely on postmemory – i.e., second-hand memories passed down from a generation that experienced an atrocity to a subsequent one that did not – is qualitatively different because it is connected to its object of study “not through recollection but through an imaginative investment and creation” (1998, 420). In light of this definition, Lebanese writings stemming from postmemories alone cannot be predicted to emerge fully on the market before the middle decades of the twenty-first century. Whether texts yet to be written by contemporary or future authors will even still qualify as Anglophone Lebanese and therefore as diasporic or perhaps by then more aptly as (ethnic) expressions of American, Canadian, and/or Australian literatures, only time, and critics, will tell.  

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Citation: Hout, Syrine. "Lebanese Anglophone Diasporic Literature". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 20 July 2017 [https://www.litencyc.com/php/stopics.php?rec=true&UID=19487, accessed 07 February 2023.]

19487 Lebanese Anglophone Diasporic Literature 2 Historical context notes are intended to give basic and preliminary information on a topic. In some cases they will be expanded into longer entries as the Literary Encyclopedia evolves.

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