I finally got a hold of Lamia Ziade’s book, ‘Bye bye Babylone’. I had been looking forward to buying it since last September, having seen some of the book’s spreads before its publication. I had immediately spotted some images on the spreads that felt so familiar: the Beirut Corniche, but mainly the hand grenade, Kalashnikov, RPG and M16. I was both amused and surprised with my knowledge of these weapons’ names and shapes.
I realize now, that is exactly Lamia’s point. Our whole life is marked by very specific objects, that she so beautifully illustrated in her book, and we didn’t even know it.
The images in ‘Bye bye Babylone’ speak as much as the text. Just flipping through the book, I would recognize the icons of my childhood, some of which have completely disappeared. Fortunately, hand grenades and RPGs are not as visible on the streets of Beirut as they were back in the early 1980’s, but along with them I lost track of the glass bottle of Libby’s ketchup sauce, the Bazooka chewing gum, and Attie honey sweets. Exactly as their alternation in the book suggests, horror stories went side by side with candy and cake in a life that was both hectic and colorful.
The stories were so atrocious that they were almost unreal. We only overheard them, given that our parents so desperately tried to protect us from them, and this contributed to the strangeness of their nature, somewhere between myth and reality, which augmented their power of fascination. True, they did taint life with a diffuse and remote fear. But life itself was more about the naive satisfaction at the thought of another day without school.
Of course, the events Lamia Ziade recalls are part of her own story, but they’re yet so similar to events any of us can remember, that the difference goes completely unnoticed. Her simple, almost childlike writing is straightforward and efficient. The identification with the narrator is complete. You would be surprised by the number of intact resurfacing memories, and by the power of the emotions that they evoke.
Reading Lamia Ziade’s book feels like accidentally finding a long lost beautiful diary that I have never written, recording happy and bitter moments, enriched with a collection of places, flavors, smells, and objects that populated my childhood, all of which I cherished dearly once, but somehow failed to notice.
Lamia Ziade, “Bye Bye Babylone: Beyrouth 1975-1979″
Denoel Graphic, Paris, 2010
First published on RAYA