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Beirut Blues

3.32  ·  Rating Details ·  243 Ratings  ·  21 Reviews
With the acclaim won by her first two novels, Hanan al-Shaykh established herself as the Arab world's foremost woman writer. Beirut Blues, published to similar acclaim, further confirms her place in Arabic literature, and brings her writing to a new, groundbreaking level.

The daring fragmented structure of this epistolary novel mirrors the chaos surrounding the heroine, Asm
Paperback, 384 pages
Published July 1st 1996 by Anchor (first published 1992)
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So, I read the Locust and the Bird by this author and was blown away. I had to try everything else she'd written. Unfortunately, it turns out everything else she's written is weird and off-putting to me, which I guess ultimately makes sense since the Locust and the Bird was a true biography and the rest are fiction. While I was sampling these other works, somewhere in the back of my mind I was thinking, This must surely be considered notable literature, but I just can't get into it. The reason i ...more
Talar Khosdeghian
Nov 14, 2014 Talar Khosdeghian rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Epistolary novels invariably produce a strange cocktail of emotions: a sense of privilege at being granted access to a person’s innermost thoughts and feelings, mixed with the uncomfortable sense of voyeurism derived from reading someone else’s mail. In Beirut Blues, we are double onlookers: as we read Asmahan’s (or Asma, as she prefers to be called) letters, we see her inner turmoils, and, by extension, the external turmoil of Lebanon’s Civil War. Many of her missives are not directed towards p ...more
Oct 06, 2009 Andrew rated it really liked it
Hanan al-Shaykh, a native Lebanese, writes a hugely evocative novel about her homeland. Beirut Blues is told through a series of letters written by the main character, Asmaran, a woman who has decided to stay in war-ravaged Beirut. The letters are not just to people, they are to the city, and the war also. And those that are to people, you must doubt that they are ever sent---the letters are just a way for Asmaran to tell her feelings about the calamity that surrounds her, as civil wars rage thr ...more
May 03, 2010 Mark rated it it was ok
Unusual book - fictional "memoir" of a group of upper class Lebanese Muslim/Palestinian intellectuals who individually chose different paths during the conflicts of the late '60's to '90's. Most chose to leave, few (including the narrator) chose to stay. The book is written as a series of letters to both human and inatimate players in the great tragedy of the demise of Beirut in particular. Somewhat difficult to follow, certainly difficult to empathize with the protaganist.
Aug 09, 2016 Raz rated it it was ok
I tried really hard to get into this book and slogged my way through to the halfway point but in the end I just found it impenetrable and lost interest. It's a shame because I like her use of language and the characters seem fully formed even though she doesn't really go into that much...I just found that she doesn't provide anywhere near enough background on any of the characters for me to be invested in their story at all.
Mar 19, 2013 Bianca rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I have officially given up on Beirut Blues, after struggling with it for quite a while. I might give Hanan Al-Shaykh a try some other time, provided that I find a book of hers that can actually make me empathise with its characters and keep me intrigued. I'm afraid Beirut Blues has done neither and it's a pity, as the idea of the book seemed very appealing. All in all, I would personally not recommend it.
Alley Rivers
Jan 22, 2015 Alley Rivers rated it liked it
"I don't want to keep my country imprisoned in my memory"
A complicated view of a complicated city from a woman who loves it, complete with some truly beautiful language.

What Red Read: Beirut Blues by Hanan Al-Shaykh
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i didn't like this at first, it seemed like it was trying too hard to be touching and significant. but it either got better, or i acclimated. i ended up enjoying it. its a series of letters written to friends, lovers, land, beirut, and the war there.
Jan 16, 2016 Booknblues rated it liked it
Asmahan seems to be unable to move to safety in war-torn Lebanon. She writes to friends and family about what life is like during this time and before. She mourns for the Lebanon and Beirut which she knew previously.
Jun 01, 2007 devon rated it it was amazing
I read this book a week before I took a birthday weekend trip to Lebanon. I had never been to the Arab world before this trip and I knew nothing of Lebanese history. This was a beautiful story, written well and translated not so terribly.
Mar 11, 2014 Tawni rated it liked it
I enjoyed the last few chapters, and the author's writing, but the beginning of the book jumps into the deep, provides no context, and makes it difficult to understand the author's point. I wouldn't recommend this book to friends, unless they already know a lot about Lebanon, Beirut, and the war.
Mar 27, 2007 Katie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who want to learn more about Lebanon
A great story in the form of letters about a Lebanese woman torn between leaving war ravaged Beirut and staying in the city she loves. Very well-written and thought-provoking.
Matt Champagne
Feb 07, 2014 Matt Champagne rated it it was ok
This was one of the selections in a book club I was in in the mid-nineties. I don't remember liking it so much
Mindy Houston
Oct 14, 2012 Mindy Houston rated it it was amazing
Ever identify with a character so much it hurt? For anyone like me, you'll find it in this story of war-torn Beirut and a woman lost in that violence, coming to terms with herself and her thoughts.
Aug 23, 2011 Sarah rated it it was amazing
One of my old favorites that I read when I was reading loads of Middle Eastern women's lit as part of my undergrad program. Amazingly good.
Oct 06, 2013 Pat rated it liked it
Slow to get going but starts to grab you and is a moving and graphic depiction of the connection one has with their home.
Mar 13, 2013 Jaime rated it really liked it
Interesting read, but you should have prior knowledge of the Lebanese Civil War to get a better understanding of what is happening in the book
Jan 08, 2011 Shanna rated it liked it
Offers a very interesting perspective on living in an unstable and war torn place through the eyes of a young woman who has only known such a place.
Leah Polonenko
Sep 12, 2015 Leah Polonenko rated it really liked it
Tragic. Beautiful. Knowledgeable. Historical. A really great book narrated in the most interesting manner. I'll be looking for this author again!
Jan 16, 2016 Julia rated it did not like it
I hated this book. I felt like Al-Shaykh was trying too hard; the book was pretentious. There was little plot.
Sep 15, 2011 Tamara rated it liked it
I had not read much about the war in Lebanon before this novel. It was insightful. Overall I thought it was a well written story.
Nooey rated it really liked it
Apr 21, 2014
Randa rated it it was ok
May 11, 2012
Iria rated it really liked it
Dec 13, 2014
Ilana rated it it was ok
Feb 03, 2008
Tracey Hook
Tracey Hook rated it it was amazing
Feb 04, 2016
Lauren Hamra
Lauren Hamra rated it liked it
Nov 19, 2007
Toula Chams
Toula Chams rated it it was amazing
Feb 02, 2012
Ms Vance
Ms Vance rated it liked it
May 11, 2013
Sherif Hazem
Sherif Hazem rated it liked it
Mar 06, 2012
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Hanan Al-Shaykh (Arabic: حنان الشيخ) is a Lebanese journalist, novelist, short-story writer, and playwright.
Al-Shaykh was born into a conservative Shia' Muslim family. She received her primary education in Beirut, and later she attended the American College for Girls in Cairo.
Al-Shaykh began her journalism career in Egypt before returning to Lebanon. She has also lived in Saudi Arabia and is curr
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“I don’t want to turn into one of those pathetic creatures who are always homesick, always saying I wish I were still in Beirut. I don’t want to become like you, split between here and there. I know I’m not happy here, but why should I be unhappy in two countries?” 8 likes
“But were they Israeli planes dropping leaflets from the sky, or “flights of birds striking us with stones of baked clay” as if we were Ethiopians threatening Mecca in the Qur’an?” 3 likes
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