Four Exciting Lebanese Writers

The number of Lebanese writers featured in the International Prize for Arabic Fiction
reveal the strength of contemporary Lebanese fiction. These
contemporary writers inherit a rich literary history in Lebanon which
belies the tumultuous recent history of the country.

has suffered from a complex history of political, ethnic and religious
division marked by fifteen years of bloody civil war from 1975-1990. The
scars of this war and the fractured sense of national identity it
engendered makes for a compelling national literature which often
explores the displacement of the individual self and the splintering of
memory. We look at Lebanon’s rich literary heritage and through four of
its most successful writers.

Alexandre Najjar

well as being a novelist, Najjar has worked as a literary critic and
lawyer, something which undoubtedly influences the considered and
poignant style of his own writing. The author of around thirty novels,
Najjar often focuses his work on his childhood memories of growing up
during the Lebanese War and the effect this had on his character. He
deftly paints a picture that interweaves a humorously personal voice
with the hard-hitting realities of modern Lebanon. In novels like The
School of War
, Najjar uses narrative elements from Lebanese folklore to
comment upon the universality of war and the suffering it produces.

Khalil Gibran

writer Gibran is lauded for his work as a novelist, philosopher, poet
and artist. He is most famous for the prose poem The Prophet which
has been translated into 40 languages, making Gibran the third best
selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu. Often interpreted as a tale of Eastern mysticism, the poem is best described
as a collection of essays which follow prophet Al Mustafa, as he regales
a group of strangers with his musings on topics ranging from the
domestic and worldly (childhood, eating and drinking, work, clothes
etc) through to the philosophical and metaphysical (religion, beauty,
death, self-knowledge etc). The Prophet gained cult status in 1960s

Amin Maalouf

Working as director of Beirut magazine An-Nahar until 1975 when civil war forced him to move to Paris, Maalouf’s
writing is informed by both the history and trauma of his native
country, and the experience of exile. Many of his novels are set in
historical periods of interest for the Middle East of today. For
example, in Gardens of Light
he returns to third century Mesopotamia and depicts the volatility of
the Middle East as it was fought over by Romans, Persians, Christians,
Jews and Zoroastrians; in doing so he mirrors the situation of modern
day Lebanon. The Guardian has praised Maalouf’s writing as ‘a voice
which Europe cannot afford to ignore’.

Elias Khoury

Like Najjir, Khoury’s work (especially White Masks
which was translated into English in 1981) revolves around semi-autobiographical accounts of growing up in war-torn Beirut. Unlike the
nostalgic and touching memoirs of Najiir however, Khoury’s style is
visceral and journalistic; he writes about the literal impact of the war
as well as the effect it had on the citizens of Beirut and their state
of mind. Belonging to the Fatah faction and himself a militant at one
point, he ironically classes his move away from violence and into
literature a ‘shifting of alliances’ akin to those which were going on
around him in war-torn Beirut.