By Andree Chedid.

Translated from the French by Ros Schwartz. London: Serpent's Tail, 1989. ISBN: 1-85242-149-5

Lively photographer and grandmother, Kalya returns to Lebanon after many years away. She is meeting her 12 year old American grand daughter, Sybil. They have chosen Beirut since Sybil has never been there and Kalya not for many years. They happen to come just weeks before the outbreak of the 1985 Lebanese Civil War.

Kalya tells the story, weaving a tragic tale of the immediate present with background from the very recent present and all mixed in with memories of Kalya's last visit some 37 years earlier in 1928. We know from the outset that this is to be a tragedy, it is only the sort that is unclear.

In much of the story Kalya's relationship with her grandmother in 1928 mirrors a good deal of the relationship she has with Sybil in 1985.Another critical part of the story centers in the friendship of Kalya's 22 year old Christian niece, Myriam, and her best friend, Muslim Ammal. These two idealistic young women see the blood bath coming and believe they can circumvent it with a plan of peace. It is when this plan goes wrong that the tragedy sets in.

This is a book of women and a different way to treat violence and hardship. There is little violence in any of the half dozen main women characters, left for various reasons without male protection which is so common in their society.

Chedid tells a powerful story of fascinating women of the upper class. They want for nothing materially, but struggle for the simplest things of meaning to them. They are independent in many ways, yet bound powerfully by the society and traditions within which they live.

I highly recommend this beautiful and difficult novel to anyone wishing to wrestle with alternatives to our normal modes of violence to settle serious disputes.

Bob Corbett

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Bob Corbett