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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Printed in Beirut

Jabbour Douaihy

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To purchase Printed in Beirut

Title: Printed in Beirut
Author: Jabbour Douaihy
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 218 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Printed in Beirut - US
Printed in Beirut - UK
Printed in Beirut - Canada
Le manuscrit de Beyrouth - France
  • Arabic title: طبع في بيروت
  • Translated by Paula Haydar

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Our Assessment:

B : fine, enjoyable publishing and Beirut story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 13/8/2018 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)his entertainingly jaundiced look at Beirutís publishing and printing industry from Lebanese novelist Douaihy (...) Bemused readers will be both enlightened and charmed." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Farid Abu Shaar is at the center of Printed in Beirut, but hardly feels like its main actor: he's buffeted by events, rather than a mover and shaker himself. It's not so much that he is passive, but he stands rather apart from everyday life around him in contemporary Beirut -- and Douaihy leaves him dangling a bit along the way here.
       The spoiled third of three sons, Farid lives a bit in his own world, in contrast to his two older brothers, who have settled down and productively gotten on with life. Farid is a dreamy sort, and old-fashioned -- more nineteenth than twenty-first century. And he has literary aspirations -- indeed he oozes it: when someone assumes a manuscript he loses is a work of poetry he notes:

     "Did I say I was a poet ?"
     "No, but you have that look about you ..."
     Farid couldn't really deny it.
       The novel opens with Farid having completed a literary work, and taking it from publisher to publisher, in the hopes of finding someone who will recognize its genius ("I squeezed the juice of my being into this book !" is his pitch at one place ...). Of course, no one does -- "No one reads", he is reminded -- but at 'Karam Brothers Press, Est. 1908' they just lost their Arabic language copyeditor and he's offered that job. Farid doesn't leap at the opportunity, but, after thinking it over, accepts -- it's a job, after all, and it's about time he got one of those.
       Karam Brothers is a massive outfit, with over a hundred employees, and does all sorts of commercial printing, so Farid deals with a wide variety of kinds of writing, though little of it is literary. As to his own aspirations, he doesn't manage to write any more -- but he does always keep the lone copy of his treasured notebook with him. Originally he had titled his grand work: 'The Book to Come', but he changed it when he learnt that a Frenchman (Maurice Blanchot) had already used it -- opting then simply for: The Book. As to its contents, well, he can already picture the finely printed edition, and:
     There wouldn't be any summary on the back cover, because his writing was unsummarizable. It was already the epitome of brevity and precision.
       At work, everyone sees he always has his notebook with him. And then, one night, he forgets it and it's gone when he comes to work the next day -- a devastating and somewhat mystifying loss. What happened becomes even more mystifying to him when he eventually finds a copy of the notebook again -- now in a beautifully printed and bound edition.
       It was the wife of the boss, Persephone, who saw to it that a single, perfect copy of the book woul be printed, the work done by an old employee who could still set type by hand, and who had access to a stock of the very finest paper .....
       Business is very good at Karam Brothers. Suspiciously good. They scraped together the millions for a top of the line Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 162 -- a huge investment -- and ever since, it's like they can just print money ..... Because, once a week, late at night, that's exactly what happens: they (well, those Abdallah, who runs the press and is married to Persephone, has gotten entangled with) churn out first-rate counterfeit euro notes. Printed on a particular, high-quality paper -- the same paper used for the single printing of Farid's book. And when the authorities come to investigate, Farid's book is taken from him once again, and Farid finds himself caught up in the large-scale investigation.
       Printed in Beirut has a decent present-day thriller plot -- Farid and Persephone, who is disappointed in her marriage, are attracted to each other, complicating matters, and the business dealings -- printing, insurance, sex work -- in a Beirut that has settled down somewhat but isn't exactly a place where law and order have really established themselves, as well as a dash of international intrigue make for a lively story with a variety of interesting characters. It's also a novel not just of the present but steeped in recent history, from Farid's family's story (including their not quite so literary roots) to the storied history of Karam Brothers (founded in 1918, but with a decade knocked off because it's better not to date these things too precisely ...), including the story of their original printing press (and an earlier, not quite as successful counterfeiting operation). Abdallah suffered great injury in a Beirut bombing, and there are repeated reminders of the violence that never seems far away, from early in the last century to the present. The contrasts of old-style typesetting and the ultra modern offset possibilities are also a nice touch, old and new worlds side by side.
       Weaving back and forth, and between the various characters, Printed in Beirut is an enjoyable little novel of Beirut, past and present, and how business and life are done there. Even with how much their stories overlap , Douaihy's shifting between the characters does water down the force of the story some -- a tighter focus, a more main character or two might have worked better. The shifts in time, with longer sections dredging up the past, have a similar effect -- though these are interesting (and fun) bits and pieces, the overall effect is of the story feeling like it's being pulled in a few too many directions.
       Not exactly a tight little novel, but certainly good fun, with some sly bits and fine turns.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 August 2018

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Printed in Beirut: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Arabic literature

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About the Author:

       Lebanese author Jabbour Douaihy (جبور الدويهي) was born in 1949.

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