Staff Review: Bye Bye Babylon: Beirut 1975-1979
Bye Bye Babylon: Beirut 1975-1979
The Lebanese Civil War between Christians and Muslims ended more than 20 years ago, but the impacts can still be seen around the country – destroyed buildings, shelling holes on houses’ walls and posters of missing people who are still have not been found. The Lebanese avoid talking about the war and media portrayals of the event are highly censored. Nevertheless, it does not stop Lamia Ziade to tell her story growing up during the war.
In her memoir, Lamia uses colorful paintings and illustrations to tell the stories, with sporadic text to explain a little bit more about the images. Her storytelling style shows her simple and innocent mind in looking at the chaos and dangers surrounding her home and family.
Lamia was seven years old when the war erupted in 1975. This was the time where Beirut was considered the ‘Paris of Middle East’. Lamia grew up in a wealthy Christian family where she often went to Spinney’s Supermarket with trolleys and escalators (luxuries at that time!) to buy Kraft’s Marshmallows, Kellogg’s cereals, and 7-UP sodas. Her paintings of Western products show her admiration of the beautiful things she would miss when the war began.
Her story during the war combines political facts and warfare described from a child’s point of view. The militias with AK 47s were wearing colorful shirts and smiling. Grenades are called remmaneh in Arabic, which means pomegranate. When her uncle told her the story of the burning of the Holiday Inn Hotel, she kept thinking about a delicious hamburger she once had there and could not link this to her uncle’s story of RPGs, mortars and rockets.
Lamia still talks and draws explicit pictures about the guns, the massacres, the political leaders and the violence, but she also talks about her Enid Blyton books, her grandmother’s stories, board games they played while militias were fighting outside, and a risky adventure to a neighbor’s house to buy chocolates through hidden alleys as to avoid the snipers.
This illustrative book is a quick one, but her simple child-like intimacy in describing her experience during the war is fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time.
Find the book here, and buy at your local bookshop.
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