Andree Chedid: The Return to Beirut

Discovering a wonderful but obscure writer adds to my happiness these days. Although obscure only in my part of the world, at least… for after all, there is a public library in Paris named after Andrée Chedid!

Having shelves largely organized by geography, I had trouble categorizing an author of Lebanese descent, born in Cairo but resided in Paris and wrote in French, and has won French literary awards including the Albert Camus Prize and the Prix Goncourt de la Poésie in 2002.

Matters of roots often spring up in the novel. “𝘏𝘰𝘸 𝘵𝘰 𝘱𝘶𝘭𝘭 𝘶𝘱 𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘴𝘦 𝘳𝘰𝘰𝘵𝘴 𝘸𝘩𝘪𝘤𝘩 𝘴𝘦𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘥𝘪𝘷𝘪𝘥𝘦 𝘸𝘩𝘦𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘴𝘩𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 𝘦𝘯𝘳𝘪𝘤𝘩 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘰𝘯𝘨 𝘰𝘧 𝘮𝘢𝘯, 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘵𝘦𝘹𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘴𝘰𝘶𝘭, 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘪𝘮𝘱𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘵𝘳𝘢𝘣𝘪𝘭𝘪𝘵𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘵? 𝘉𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘢𝘵𝘩 𝘴𝘰 𝘮𝘢𝘯𝘺 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘥𝘴, 𝘢𝘤𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘴, 𝘭𝘢𝘺𝘦𝘳𝘴, 𝘸𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘥𝘰𝘦𝘴 𝘭𝘪𝘧𝘦 𝘣𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘵𝘩𝘦?”

But for the time being, I will keep her in my Lebanon section, because although she writes with the elegance of the French (there is even one sentence that is Proustian in length and spans an entire page), this book has the structure of a Lebanese novel — unconventional and unpredictable, and it is very much a reflection of Lebanon.

It ends as the civil war begins. Centered on the lives of a grandmother and granddaughter, we see their mirrored lives unfold while an unusual and refined suspense that drones throughout the delightful passages suddenly grips your whole being towards the end.

Andrée Chedid is a literary gem! I am wondering at the scarcity of her works in our bookshops!

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