5 books to get to know Lebanon, a country on the brink of collapse – Orientalíssimo

Lebanon is going through an unprecedented crisis. Its GDP (gross domestic product) declined by 20% in 2020 and is expected to decline by 9.5% this year. The pound has lost over 90% of its value against the dollar. More than half of the population lives below the poverty line. With all this, the World Bank warned in June that the country could experience one of the worst economic collapses in the world since the mid-19th century.

This disaster has passed in Brazil, which is surprising. This is where the largest Lebanese diaspora in the world lives, estimated at millions of people. The kibbeh and sfiha that we eat daily in cities like São Paulo originate from there, as well as the families of politicians like Fernando Haddad, Paulo Maluf and Michel Temer.

For those who want to know more about the country, this Orientalíssimo blog compiles five reading suggestions below. If you need a specific recommendation, please feel free to email me.

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“A HISTORY OF ARAB PEOPLES”, BY ALBERT HOURANI
The first suggestion is a basic book, for a more general context on the history of the region. Albert Hourani was an Anglo-Lebanese scholar and his work is one of the reference texts for those beginning to study the Middle East. It is sometimes dense reading, but essential to understand where modern Lebanon comes from.

“THE ARABS: A STORY”, BY EUGENE ROGAN
This second indication is also addressed to those who need a historical context, before going into details. Eugène Rogan, who was Hourani’s pupil, recounts the history of the Middle East from the arrival of the Ottomans in the 16th century to the present day. Pay special attention to the passages on Druze Prince Fakhr al-Din and the French protectorate.

“THE LEBANESES”, BY MURILO MEIHY
The book by Brazilian historian Murilo Meihy is an excellent gateway to Lebanese history and culture. Meihy writes for a wide audience without jargon. He talks, for example, about the art of hookah smoking – and swearing. Meihy also briefly discusses the relations between Lebanon and Brazil, in the context of mass migration.

“POOR NATION”, BY ROBERT FISK
Award-winning (and controversial) British journalist Robert Fisk recounts in this well-known book the Lebanese civil war, which took place from 1975 to 1990. Fisk was one of the few reporters to witness these events, which have also shaped the history of neighboring countries. countries Israel and Syria. Your book is a classic for getting to know contemporary Lebanon better.

“A HOUSE OF MANY HOUSES”, BY KAMAL SALIBI
This last suggestion is for anyone who reads in English. The book of the Lebanese Kamal Salibi is fundamental to better understand the historiographical debates on Lebanon, that is to say how the history of the country was written. Salibi analyzes a series of accounts, such as that the Lebanese are the descendants of the Phoenicians. He also speaks of Arab nationalism.

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