“Become a writer. Write about going to the moon.”
“I don’t want to write about astronauts going to the moon. I want to be one.”
“Write in first-person then.”
Adam dreams to be like his heroes – Neil Armstrong, Yuri Gagarin, Buzz Aldrin – and explore new worlds beyond his own. But, who has ever heard of an Arab on the moon? Teased mercilessly by his friends and family, Adam has little support for his nascent ambition. And so, this extraordinary debut by A. Naji Bakhti follows Adam with his lofty ambitions as he comes of age within the confines of Beirut at the tail end of the civil war that tore the city apart.
In this book, death is omnipresent and conflict lurks every corner, but, as does comedy. Against the backdrop of a shattered city, Bakhti portrays the normal escapades of youth and narrates jokes through Adam’s childhood innocence. All the same, he does so while remaining frank and informative about the terrifying realities of post-civil-war Beirut. Just as his city struggles to heal after decades of turmoil, we see Adam himself struggle to understand his country’s turbulent history. A past which, whether he likes it or not, encroaches on his own future.
I curse the country that presented our children with two alternatives: death or immigration and instructed them to pick between the two.
I curse the country that forced its parents to send their children to outer space, or worse Europe, and wave silently from afar.
I curse the country that made fools of us all and led us to believe that we would grow old watching our sons amongst their fellow countrymen.
Moreover, this is an episodic novel that comprises a host of comedic, idiosyncratic misfits and miscreants. For instance, Adam battles with his book-hoarding journalist father who has a penchant for writing eulogies. He quarrels with his closest friend, Basil, a Druze who is said to worship goats and believe in reincarnation. Then, I lost count of how many halloumi sandwiches his mum made throughout. What’s more, the interactions with these characters, and the tales that unfold with them, render this book almost like a collection of connected short stories. Bakhti sprinkles his narrative with anecdotes that are conventional tales of adolescence. However, they are told against the turbulent background of convoluted politics and sectarian divides, car bombs, and kidnappings.
‘Between Beirut and the Moon’ introduced me to not only a new author but also a perspective that is severely underrepresented in English language literature. As Adam gazes at the stark vista of the Mediterranean skyline from his balcony and listens to the distant echoes of afternoon prayers, we step into a world that too many of us are ignorant of. However, Bakhti establishes that beyond the turmoil, it’s one we can resonate with. Watching the news can only tell us so much about a country. But, this book demonstrates how through humour, we can better understand a country’s spirit.
Thank you, Influx Press, for sending me an advanced copy of Between Beirut and the Moon by A. Naji Bakhti in exchange for an honest review.
Looking for more reading recommendations? Read my review of Ghosts by Dolly Alderton.