In Hilal Chouman's Limbo Beirut, a gay artist, a struggling novelist, a pregnant woman, a disabled engineering student, a former militia member, and a medical intern all take turns narrating the violent events of May 2008, when Hezbollah militants and Sunni fighters clashed in the streets of Beirut. For most of these young men and women, the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990) is but a vague recollection, but the brutality of May 2008 serves to reawaken forgotten memories and stir up fears of a revival of sectarian violence. Yet despite these fears, the violence these characters witness helps them to break free from the mundane details of their lives and look at the world anew.
The multiple narrative voices and the dozens of pen-and-ink illustrations that accompany the text allow Chouman to achieve a mesmerizing cinematic quality with this novel that is unique in modern Arabic fiction. Not only will readers appreciate the meaningful exploration of the effects of violence on the psyche, but they will also enjoy discovering how the lives of these characters—almost all of whom are strangers to one another—intersect in surprising ways.
"The novel exemplifies how this current generation of Lebanese authors and artists, raised during the tail end of the country’s civil war and the beginnings of an ongoing reconstruction, have been able to interpret more recent conflicts. These accounts are full of inchoate memories of the last war, and disillusion with any future wars."
"The kaleidoscopic style can be challenging, but it successfully conveys the disjointed life of Lebanon at a time when “the government was fighting itself, the country hated itself, and the explosion was inevitably coming.” The uncertainty of war is always there: “In this country no one knows what’s taking place on the street until he sets foot on it, and when he does, anything at all could happen”. War’s futility is brought home when one character observes how those who had once shot at each other are now eating together, chinking glass and laughing."
Times Literary Suplement
"Adding to the exemplary richness of Lebanese fiction, Hilal Chouman…opens up the window to the complexity of human behavior and emotions."