By Iman Humaydan
Translated by Michelle Hartman
Interlink Publishing Group, Incorporated, 2014, pp. 256.
Those who lived through war, directly or indirectly, as well as those interested in the human psyche and how it is fractured by such upheavals, will appreciate the novel “Other Lives,” by Iman Humaydan. The story follows the life of a young Lebanese woman, Myriam, as she struggles to survive and find a sense of belonging during and after the Lebanese civil war. Displaced from her rural village in the Shouf Mountains, she travels to Beirut then to places unimaginably distant — Australia, Kenya, South Africa searching for a new livelihood and identity. Finally, driven by a sense of personal obligation and a longing for friends and family, Myriam returns to Lebanon — only to find that the people and the country she left behind have changed profoundly.
The faces and expressions of those she once knew seem vaguely familiar, though somehow different, leaving her to ponder the process of reconciliation. Yet, while her struggle to reconnect looms large, another of life’s ironies unexpectedly rears its head: The haunting inability to rid one’s self of her past.
A scene in which Myriam sells the family home to settle her inheritance — an inheritance made possible only by the death of her brother — reveals the depth of such a dilemma. She remembers how her brother was killed in a rocket explosion outside their home during the war, and how the smell of his burning corpse remained in the house for a long time afterward. “Sometimes I feel as though this smell is still close to me, that since this incident my senses can no longer perceive any other smell.”
Myriam proves a complicated character, somewhat brooding and self-absorbed as she stresses over relationships with men in particular. Eventually, though, she accepts her fate as a loner traveling life’s side roads. Yet, “Other Lives,” also operates on another level, painting a familiar picture.For those who, in one way or another, might have been affected by the Lebanese civil war, redemption and personal empowerment can be found in confronting one’s past, however tragic and distant that past may be.
This review will appear in Al Jadid, Vol. 19, No. 68.
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