“This isn’t my story, it’s the story of someone else’s life. Told in his words, which I have merely rearranged when when they seemed to me to lack clarity or coherence. It contains its own truth, which is as true as any other.” I like the way Ports of Call by Amin Maalouf begins.
It is a short book with a lot of substance. Big subjects are touched upon: love, tragedy, religion, nationality, and sorrow. There are several important times in the word history written into the book; the last days of the Ottoman empire, the French Resistance as well as the unsettling days in Beirut.
A man tells his story to a journalist unknown to him from before, who then writes the man’s life story. It’s pretty much a monologue, a story told by the man about his life, and everything he had been through. The story begins years before the main character was born. It takes the reader back to his grandmother’s days, and from there one to his own life from Beirut to France, and back to Beirut, and everything in between.
Mental asylums, love of a Jewish woman, running away from the French authorities… There are so many heartbreaking subjects covered that it will literally take your breath away from time to time. Even though the subjects are heavy the story is told in an intriguing way, and it flows nicely. It does not feel as heavy a read that it in fact is.
The subject of persecution and not being accepted in one’s own country is sadly as universal as love and war in literature, as well as in real life. It feels incredible that people have to up and leave today more than ever before. Most of these persecutions are not ever heard of on the news in Western countries, but some, like antisemitism has never taken a break. No wonder this subject is frequently written about.
For people interested in world literature, fiction infused with true major events from around the world, this is a good choice. I had never heard of this book until I started looking for books from Lebanon. I am happy to say that the author has had many books translated into the English, and I will definitely try to get ahold of a few more!