This is a really interesting essay by George El-Hage, a professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature, I found detailing the nature of the autobiographical nature of the 1974 novel Beirut 75. Even though I didn’t fully read this book, I did skim over it and found it to be a rather engaging work. Ghada al-Samman, a prominent Arab and feminist author born in Damascus, wrote her prescient novel in 1974, a few months before the nation of Lebanon was engulfed in a brutal civil war that would last for the next fifteen years. Although the fictitious events depicted in Beirut 75 are just that, the timing of her novel was eerie. al-Samman did not write in order to predict doom and carnage, but that was certainly a major part of the book. Looking at the book in retrospective, it is sometimes difficult to separate coincidence from an author who knows how to tell a moving, believable tale.
Beirut 75’s protagonists (If that is the best term for Yasmeena, Farah, Ta’aan, Abu’l-Malla, and Abu Mustafa) are all adrift in a sea of troubles, and try desperately to find some way to make their lives better. Whether through fame and success, the intimacy of a sexual companion, or struggling to adapt to a difficult new world, the characters’ actions, thoughts and desires are all written out plainly on the page for the reader to see. al-Samman’s narrative style of transitioning between the thoughts of one character and another when they are together adds to the feeling that this is an ensemble cast, with each character playing an important role by fleshing out the full extent of the plot. Beirut 75 provides an excellent fictional and personalized viewpoint(s) of the city of Beirut and the people drawn to it, their lives as a reflection of the social, political, economic (and even sexual) struggles contained within.
The main gist of the linked essay above is the degree to which the characters, especially Yasmeena and Mustafa, represent the author herself and her own struggles and background. While each of the novel’s main characters faces the same air of eventual demise, the author of the essay seems to think that even the lesser characters are journalistic representations of people that al-Samman met or witnessed in her own life. Whatever your thoughts on the novel and its message, the perception of the author within characters not easily identified as facsimiles or empty shells certainly adds depth to the novel.