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Between Beirut and the Moon by A Naji Bakhti - Review

Thursday, June 8, 2023

This was the June choice for my book club and I was intrigued by it but hadn't heard of it before so I gave it a good go. I'm sorry to say that I found it baffling and not very good at all; I'm giving it two out of five which for me is a really low rating. 

I thought it was a memoir and if it had been I might have given it a bit more leeway because memoirs are often a bit messy and non linear. But I googled and it's just described as a 'coming of age' debut which leads me to think it's not. But it does read like one! 

Adam is a young boy in the book; he ages from around eleven years old to around sixteen or seventeen when he is old enough to drive. He lives in Beirut in Lebanon with his parents and his sister. I think there's an older brother but there's very little mention of him so maybe I'm misremembering. The younger sister is called Fara but it's mentioned that it's not her real name - but her real name isn't said, I don't think. That annoyed me. According to google the book is set quite recently, in the late 2010s, when Beirut had a civil war going on, but it feels like it's set way before that, in the 70s or 80s. It doesn't feel modern, and Adam's dad owns a really old car. 

Adam is half Muslim and half Christian and I did like this aspect of the book and how it concerned both Adam and everyone else around him. His dad has a hilarious family, with some shaggy dog story about the grandfather winning a lottery and then losing the money being quite funny but also quite confusing. Adam's best friend is Basil, who is Druze, which is a faith found in Syria and Lebanon and which is quite secretive. Adam and Basil have their ups and downs but remain firm friends until close to the end of the book.

Adam's dad is a book hoarder and this has a huge impact on his family life. Adam and his sister are regularly sent to retrieve books, and the old car that Adam's dad has even ends up covered in them. Adam wants to be an astronaunt (hence the name of the book), but who's ever heard of an Arab astronaut? There's a creepy teacher (they even call him the paedophile) called Mr Malik who manages to groom one of the boys into a nationalist political group. Through all this there is the war, with regular bombings that mean the family hide in the bathroom, and the loss of some people close to them. 

I found the structure really weird - it's not exactly linear and I found the back and forth really hard to deal with. There's lots of 'years later' which adds to the memoir like feel. I just didn't completely like it  hence the low rating. I'll see in a couple of weeks what everyone else thought of it!

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