"Lebanon is like a second skin that does not leave me," muses Aneesa, the drifting protagonist of Nada Awar Jarrar’s dreamy riddle of a novel. Her brother has vanished, presumably a victim of the civil war that thrums menacingly in the background. She flees to London, but her attempts to disentangle herself from her troubled roots are thwarted when she meets Salar,
a fellow refugee.
This is less a novel about political conflict than a microscopic, almost stifling dissection of the language of unspoken desire. We can only guess at the inner workings of these largely introverted characters. Instead, we are forced to analyse a litany of glances,
half-murmurs and swallowed confessions. The narrative darts skittishly from past to present, from character to character, and while this works as an enactment of the characters’ own disorientation, its obliqueness leaves too much unsaid.
The lack of historical or political context is another frustration. Beirut is filtered through a familiarly exotic haze, with much grinding of cardamom pods and sniffing of lemons, but its place in the larger context of the war is underexplored. This is a haunting, impressionistic portrayal of exile, but its vague contours create a blurred, unsatisfying whole.