The Price of Freedom: A Reading of Ghada al-Samman’s Beirut ’75
by George N. El-Hage, Ph.D.

“Beirut has ruined me, that’s all!”

“That’s not true,” he replied, “You women all accuse Beirut of ruining you when the truth of the matter is that the seeds of corruption were already deep inside you. All Beirut did was to give them a place to thrive and become visible. It’s given them a climate where they can grow.”

“She wondered to herself…if they had allowed my body to experience wholesome, sound relationships in Damascus – would I have lost my way to this extent?”

A sense of alienation, pessimism, and ultimate nihilism, which stems from al-Samman’s existential viewpoint, envelops the main characters in Beirut ‘75. The protagonists (Yasmeena, Farah, Ta’aan, Abu’l-Malla, and Abu Mustafa) feel trapped, alone, and disconnected from each other and from society. Each character’s personal struggle sheds light on some negative aspect of Lebanese society as seen by al-Samaan in 1975. Each character is exploited in some way, either sexually, politically or economically. Although these underlying evils of Lebanese society may have existed, al-Samman only shows a unilateral view colored by her own perception of reality. She fails to offer a multidimensional and more realistic view of the society at that time. In addition, she fails to successfully convey the depth of existential crisis that each of her characters endures, consequently resulting in characters that remain shallow and who do not convince the reader that their tragic demise is warranted.

The first chapter of the novel repeatedly foreshadows the characters’ impending doom; nevertheless, the reader is still left with a sense of bewilderment at such an astonishing and violent end to an otherwise ordinary set of characters. Did they really merit such a catastrophic conclusion of events? Several reviews have been very critical of such a sensational conclusion, and some critics, as well as many readers, have been shocked and dismayed. The author loves to admit, though, that she herself was puzzled with this conclusion as she tries to justify it to the public:

During the writing of this novel, its characters were simply leading themselves to their tragic deaths. I was constantly trying to stop them from doing this, but I was unable to. Although I created them on paper, these are live characters, and I do not force them to behave according to the critics’ desires or even my own wishes. It was inevitable that I let them meet their death in the pond of violence in which they swim, the pond that is full of land mines and which is called Beirut… the recent events in Beirut proved the clarity (of my vision )…hence, the violence … the explosion…

According to al-Samman, her characters were doomed because they were trapped in a “pond of violence,” otherwise known as Beirut. Instead of finding hope and redemption there, they each become entangled in the socio-political issues of Beirut in 1975. From al-Samman’s political and existential view, Beirut is viewed as a “fallen city,” and consequently, not only its citizens but anyone who enters it is doomed to fail. For al-Samman, Beirut is Dante’s hell, a place for lost souls with no hope of salvation.

Throughout the novel, the characters seem pathetic in their limited grasp of reality and in their inability to alter their catastrophic destiny. They seek a childlike and immediate fix to their problems. They do not grow, mature or ripen with experience. Rather, they succumb to their unyielding desires and destructive instincts. Their mad search for an immediate solution to their poverty, coupled with their uncontrollable passion for money and fame, prove to be a sure formula for disaster. But of course, they all blame Beirut!

Take Yasmeena, for example. Coming from a humble origin, she has been a Syrian school teacher in a nun’s convent for the past ten years, and she journeys to Beirut only to escape her miserable life and an oppressive society. For her, Beirut is more a fantasy than a reality. It is Paris, Hollywood or Manhattan. She has already formulated her own simplistic version of how Beirut is and has a rather ideal perspective even on the way love relationships in Beirut should be. A poet at heart and on paper, she entertains a beautiful dream of publishing her poems, but she fails to consider that becoming a poet comes with a dear price and a serious lifetime commitment. She cannot wait to arrive and pluck the fruit of fame and wealth that she imagines awaits her at the gate of the city of dreams. Yasmeena, like Farah, comes prepared to conquer Beirut, to “take it by storm.” She assumes that the possibilities are endless and she is ready to do whatever it takes to overcome her humble origin and forget her poverty. With such determination, what could possibly stand in her way? How can she possibly fail? Although she has a lot to give, she is, nevertheless, naive, and lacks intellectual maturity, self pride and a sense of the historical reality that prevailed in the Arab world at the time. She is a failed Romantic and by no means a true representative of the Arab woman of her generation. As it turns out, the only thing that she is immediately ready to offer is her body under the pretense of love and marriage. She manages to silence her brother’s voice and buy his pride with a monthly fine that she agrees to pay him to supplement his meager income. She falls victim to the same old tradition that she tries to escape and superficially deal with.

How did Yasmeena end up dead and mutilated at the hands of her brother? Was this the author’s intent from the beginning? The author explains:

I had decided, for example, that…Yasmeena…would become a prostitute…While writing the story, Yasmeena rebelled and decided to choose a life of poverty and confront society. She had something in her real character that made her take this path. She emerged out of the paper, stood over my lines and screamed in my face … rebelling against my wrongful attempt to alter her private destiny which she can only chart.

Yasmeena remains naive, wrapped up in her own bodily pleasures trying to secure a life of comfort and wealth under the pretense of love and marriage to Nimr whom she had met only three months before and under unknown circumstances. She naively, or cunningly, believes that pretending to be Nimr’s mistress in bed, on a remote location on his yacht in the Mediterranean, will secure her a life of wealth and luxury and protect her against a background of poverty and monotonous employment. She even allows herself to believe, that after one hot night with Nimr, she can overhaul the prevailing social system in Lebanon by sweet talking Nimr into convincing his father to list the equality and freedoms of women among his priorities when he runs for parliamentary election. Her virtuous self awakening at the end comes only as a result of her being rejected by Nimr. And her tragic end comes when she no longer can pay to silence her brother’s alarming sound of “honor” that was suddenly awakened when his pocket runs empty of Nimr’s money.

Both Yasmeena and Nimr are guilty of using each other for their own self-serving purposes. In addition, Yasmeena, like Farah, is not a true representative of the thousands of Syrian workers who traveled to Lebanon in the sixties and early seventies seeking better job opportunities and honorably earning their living with sweat and labor. Had Yasmeena arrived in Beirut and shared a humble room with her brother, found an honorable job as a school teacher, continued to write poetry and pursued her dream of publishing a book, her destiny may have been quite different. Had she met Nimr under different circumstances, perhaps as a hardworking Arab woman who was trying to improve her lot and with it, the status of women in her society, we would have certainly identified with her and been extremely sympathetic to her tragedy. Instead, it is very difficult to sympathize with her plight the way she is introduced and from what the author reveals about her past and future aspirations. From the taxi that transported this average girl to Beirut, Yasmeena mysteriously jumps to an expensive yacht where she immediately plunges into a life of luxury and wealth. She is already fulfilling her dream and willingly offers her love to Nimr. She will initially do anything that will preclude her return to poverty and the suffocating environment in which she grew up.

It is important to point out, as Samira Aghacy does, that in the works of many Lebanese women authors writing around the same period, the protagonists who journeyed to Beirut experienced the city as a liberating force from their “…traditional community that is closely aligned with a rural mentality.” They see “the city and the village in ontological opposition between repression and freedom, backwardness and progress, and past and present.” Unlike Yasmeena and Farah, who become totally alienated, depressed and mentally disturbed, those protagonists saw the “nurturing city as a symbol of well-being, independence, and freedom from shackles.” However, al-Samman’s two main characters fail to immerse themselves in the bounty of opportunities that Beirut had to offer. Although Beirut afforded them the appropriate escape from the tyranny of the past symbolized by their parents, stifling jobs and closed-minded communities, nevertheless, they were incapable of standing on their own in order to realize their potential. Instead of listening to their inner voice, they remained totally dependent on outside forces to secure the futures that they had romantically envisioned. Because they were motivated by the wrong reason, mainly personal “glory,” and were driven by selfish dreams of wealth and fame, they ignored the call of their conscience to return to their villages or to get a job and make it on their own. They did not want to simply survive; they wanted to quickly become rich and famous. Yasmeena sought deliverance through Nimr, who is himself a slave to tradition, and Farah sold his soul to the devil, replacing his dominating father image with that of Nishan in total submission and “obedience.” Instead of rejecting the authoritative figures that they had left behind, both Yasmeena and Farah simply replace them with a more corrupt and tyrannical symbol, thus failing to “define for themselves a new identity” and become part of a larger cause or community. Although in her published interviews, al-Samman clearly argues that sexual freedom is inseparable from economic, social and political freedom, her characters, Yasmeena and Farah, do not strive to obtain the rest of their rights in order to become really free. Their struggle for identity and independence should have been waged on many fronts instead of being confined primarily to “the theme of sexuality, of the privilege of orgasm and self gratification.” Based on her personal and existential reading of Beirut’s climate at the time, al-Samman presents us with “a world view that fits [her] preferred self-interpretation.” This results in characters who actively choose to use their bodies as a means of asserting their freedom instead of opting “for an effective public role and demand social and political rights.” In the vast city, they actually capitalize on the liberating element of “anonymity” as an avenue for “unrestricted wandering, sexual freedom, and the pursuit of sensual gratification.” Both Yasmeena and Farah want to be free and equal with the Beiruties. What they fail to consider is that through “work” and self- reliance rather than “sex,” they could have achieved “personal growth and social development… [in this] existential city.”

On a higher allegorical level, Yasmeena’s obsession with sexuality, with Nimr’s body and the discovery of her own appetite for sex and the pleasures of intercourse makes us wonder whether the author meant her to be a prototype of the deprived Arab woman throughout the ages. Suddenly, this new phoenix-like image, this modern Sheherazade, Yasmeena, comes forward to release this tension and serve as a spokeswoman for all her Arab sisters. Yasmeena declares:

I love it [sex]. I became addicted to it. I longed for it. For twenty seven years… I was forbidden to enjoy sex …in my blood dwells the desires of all Arab women for the last thousand years…Away from Nimr… I run the risk of sliding deeper into insanity… My hunger for his body is more than a thousand years old.

Compare this with al-Samman’s response to the question, “Who is Ghada al-Samman?” Al-Samman says: “I am an Arab woman from the desert. I am two thousand years old. They have attempted to bury me alive in the desert, but failed. They have killed me many times, and I would always rise from my ashes to fly… And write.” Although al-Samman denies that Yasmeena in some ways represents her, there are striking similarities between the two. Both Yasmeena and al-Samman are viewed as “fallen women.” Yasmeena becomes an outcast as a result of exercising her sexual freedom. Al-Samman becomes exiled for promoting a sexual revolution. Both are Arab women who become victims of a double-standard tradition that denies women their sexual freedom, while granting men theirs. Yasmeena’s and al-Samaan’s sexual liberation comes at a very high price. In addition, in “Chapter One” of Beirut ‘75, Yasmeena’s taxi ride into Beirut is almost identical to al-Samman’s recollection of her own first journey into Beirut in 1964. Al-Samman writes about herself:

I ride my car and depart from my quiet nest.. in Damascus, to Beirut, in order to chase my dream of freedom… Like a person goes towards his destiny leaving everything behind him and without noticing that he has just taken a decisive decision in his life…I carried my eternal dream of freedom…and I spread my secret wings that long to soar across the coastal horizon… Everything that is “I” in me, was drawn like a compass… towards Beirut, the freedom, Beirut, the dream… I shiver with love towards the unknown…as if it were yesterday…

The overlapping of autobiography and fiction continues as the story of Yasmeena and Farah unfolds and their feelings towards both Damascus and Beirut are revealed from the moment they ride the taxi until they arrive in Beirut, exposing further similarities with the author’s sentiments, fears, anticipation and hopes. It is not coincidental that both the author and her characters arrive in Beirut on September 14th, the eve of the Feast of the Cross. The manner of description through which the author blends fiction and fact is unmistakable if one compares the opening chapter in Beirut ‘75 and al-Samman’s details in an interview given on July 28,1983 about her arrival to Beirut.

As she tells us about her feelings while she drives her car through the winding roads from Damascus to Beirut, we find it difficult to distinguish her voice from that of Yasmeena and Farah. She tells about her fear and panic as she hears the echoes of explosions of fireworks celebrating the Feast of the Cross across the hills of the Lebanese villages and sees the bonfires blazing on the hills and mountain tops. She is truly afraid as she is reminded of the consecutive series of military coups d’etats that she endured in Syria and wondered in horror, “Does the curse of violence follow me wherever I go? Did the dream of freedom end even before it began, crushed like an ear of grain under the boots of a soldier?” She talks about how she had a flat tire that almost cost her her life on those winding, narrow and high mountainous roads leading to Beirut. Interestingly, the taxi that Yasmeena and Farah were in also had a flat tire.

There is actually more of al-Samman in Yasmeena’s character than al-Samman is willing to admit. For both, Yasmeena and al-Samman, Beirut was their destiny, where they were determined to be free, independent, famous and successful. Beirut was the genie at the beach, the land of endless opportunities that they both loved and yearned for. Al-Samman goes on to boast that even before Beirut had become a love lyric on every lover’s lips and a topic of poetry, songs and international news, “Beirut was the title of my earliest books and even later ones… we had fallen in love with each other.” Furthermore, both Yasmeena and al-Samman had been high school teachers in Syria, yet they both chose to abandon that profession since they found it stifling and unsuitable to their nature. Both were convinced that Beirut would give them the “opportunity to publish [their] poems in her newspapers.” Both were obsessed with the image of flying. Yasmeena says, “My heart feels like a bird hungry to fly.” Both loved music and were in a perpetual state of love. For Yasmeena says, “Music had always evoked within her a hidden store of mysterious emotions. She imagined herself to be a lover, not in love with anyone in particular, but in a perpetual state of amourous bliss, with a constant readiness to love, to suffer torment.” Both Yasmeena and al-Samman desired a life of luxury. They both had a sense of adventure, and both decided to intentionally never look back. Al-Samman threw the flat tire away in a gesture to forget everything about her past. Yasmeena, likewise, vows she will not look back at Damascus anymore, saying, “Adieu, Damascus, adieu!”

In spite of this, it is Mustafa, the fisherman’s son, who al-Samman admits represents her the most. According to the author, only Mustafa was able to achieve victory over his destiny by not searching for an individual solution and by not joining the group that was the reason for his misery. Instead, he committed to a cause, she says, to a collective effort in pursuit of justice, bread and happiness. Mustafa remains the only character with a vision and hope for salvation. He is able through his personal insight and intellect to bridge the vast gap between a Romantic quest and an existential destiny. He seems to have emerged with an imaginative power that allows him to alter his fate and that of his fellowmen to harvest a better future. However, it is rather ironic that all along, Mustafa did not even consider joining his “comrades” until after that fateful night of extreme sexual frustration, repeated masturbation and shameful sexual intercourse between his parents in their small, crowded room where Mustafa is perpetually a forced witness to a rather humiliating and dehumanizing experience. We are left wondering about the genuine intentions and ambitions of this “intellectual” character/hero who overnight is transformed into a rebel and armed “with the will for struggle, which is alone capable of changing the world.”

The reader is also left to wonder what kind of novel this is. Is it meant to be a psychological study, an erotic experience, a sociopolitical commentary, a historical novel, a suspense story or simply a fictitious journey? It certainly possesses all these elements without explicitly declaring one of them to be its major theme. However, I argue that Beirut ‘75 is an existential novel that tries to divorce itself from the basic tenets of its own identity by adopting additional characteristics that color it but fail to deliver the protagonists to salvation. The tragic flaw of the characters is that they remain trapped between two worlds. They are primarily Romantic beings who set out on an existential quest that can only lead to disaster. From the taxi that carried them to Beirut, they embark on a quixotic journey, and each carries within himself his own seeds of destruction. They share the ride and the sense of calamity, but – with the exception of Mustafa – they remain alone and each a “stranger” to his fellow man and to humanity at large. While they are infused with the existential elements of despair, alienation and failure, they all lack two basic ingredients of Romanticism: hope and imagination. Hope can negate despair and alienation, while imagination can help turn failure into success. The Romantic imagination can redeem “fallen nature,” presented here as Beirut, which cannot help itself. Imagination can redeem man, who can do it on his own, but who needs the impetus of an example. Neither one of these remaining characters is equipped to serve as an example or redeemer. Unfortunately, these particular characters are not endowed with such power; hence, the aridity of their vision and their suicidal fate. Even Mustafa’s daring attempt to change the course of his destiny and, consequently, the destiny of others, remains suspect yet hopeful because the novel does not forecast or confirm the outcome of his new political stand.
Amid all this, Beirut remains silent and unable to defend itself against numerous accusations, some true and some false. Beirut is portrayed as a cruel, heartless, inhospitable and damp place, stripped of all of its positive qualities. We never hear in the novel that Beirut is the cultural capital of the Middle East and its intellectual and literary center. In this novel, Beirut’s psychological and spiritual climate rather parallels the surrealistic and existential climate that permeates Camus’ The Stranger. The Beiruties remain voiceless, faceless, weak, marginal, and are described as being mostly corrupt and unpatriotic with anti-Arab sentiments. They are even ridiculed for conversing in French, which is ironically, the first language that the author herself learned even before learning Arabic. It is clear that al-Samman wanted to depict them as a distorted version of Eliot’s “Hollow Men” who inhabit a “Waste Land,” and not an elegant and hospitable city like Beirut. The manner of representation of the main characters to symbolize a whole society, and through it, a whole country, remains lacking. Moreover, the only character who was indeed, like Beirut, a “victim of circumstances” beyond his control, was Ta’aan. All of the other characters had the potential of changing the course of their destiny. They all had a choice to make and they made their choices, except Mustafa, based on greed, lust, pride, selfishness, self-glorification or inherent weaknesses and ignorance. These are all sins, and the characters, as human representations, should be held accountable for their choices.

Man as a thinking being can help make his own destiny, and effect a change in the circumstances that affect his life. The author herself has taught us this by her own example. Having a dream and selecting the right path to attain this dream can be two different things. We should accept responsibility for our decisions instead of blaming the “other.” In this novel, the reader is forced to look at Beirut through the eyes of a cast of characters mostly foreigners: Yasmeena, her brother, Farah, Nishan, and even Abu’l-Malla, all inflicted with a strong sense of estrangement and a deep rooted desire to achieve fame and wealth at any cost even if it meant signing a pact with the devil and selling their souls. Some, like Nishan, have made a choice, good or bad, lived with it, accepted the consequences, paid the price, turned to an evil dictator and pervert, but without turning against humanity at large and without attaching the blame on friend and country. Others, like Yasmeena and Farah, gifted in many ways, plunder their gifts and capitalize on “body and voice” with an extreme sense of naivety and greed, to achieve wealth and fame. As for their basic humanity and emotional depth, they are certainly bankrupt. On the other hand, concerning their nationalistic commitment, political awareness, intellectual maturity and the ultimate socio-political causes in which they had a chance to get involved, and perhaps make a difference, these characters, other than Mustafa, show no genuine concern other than shallow lip service. These are “frustrated” characters “who attempt to escape the boredom of a too-sheltered existence by launching into experiences on the fringe of social acceptability… who have chosen madness, sexual deviation, or conscious martyrdom in order to escape the stifling embrace of tradition…” They have a very narrow horizon and remain too self-absorbed in their own personal state of affairs and individual destiny, unable to embrace a more altruistic outlook.

The scene of the Israeli air raids over Beirut is a truly alarming one repeated twice while Yasmeena and Nimr make love on the yacht and while Farah roams aimlessly in Hamra Street in Beirut. According to al-Samman, only an animal, the monkey, feels the shame of the enemy airplanes allowed to fly over an Arab capital, while Yasmeena and Farah become troubled and reminisce about such times when they were visited by these evils and witnessed destruction and fear. Nimr and the inhabitants of Hamra go about their business as if nothing had happened. The author makes it clear that they had grown accustomed to such “visits,” and she criticizes them for doing nothing. While that may be the case, what she, however, fails to point out, and which is much more significant, is that the reaction from the rest of the Arab capitals was also mute and indifferent.

In Beirut ‘75, al-Samman pinpoints many of the evils that plagued Lebanese society which supposedly led to the civil war. We certainly agree with al-Samman that Lebanon’s social and political system embodied injustices and preferential treatments, but we also concur with Awwad’s observation when she writes: “Clearly, however, al-Samman’s personal feelings and emotions interfere with her intellectual grasp of important Arab issues, thus causing her to propound generalizations of dubious value and create a set of fairly nondescript characters.”

Al-Samman’s list of reasons for the war looks more like a Communist manifesto than a realistic representation of the complex causes of the war. What happened in Lebanon was not exclusively an internal civil strife between the rich and the poor, the Moslems and the Christians, in as much as it was, in reality, the wars of the foreigners and the Arabs fought on Lebanese soil. The author certainly knows this. Moreover, since al-Samman is primarily, even in her novels, a journalist, who tried to justify the causes of the Lebanese war to the press, it is befitting to quote from Ghassan Tueini, one of the most prominent journalists in the Middle East today. In a recent speech that he delivered in the country of Dubai, on October 7, 2003, Ghassan Tueini said:

Part of Lebanon’s anger is because the wars of the Arabs with Israel, as well the wars of the Arabs with the Arabs, while they ceased at the boarders of other countries, they still continue to be fought on its land. These wars were actually carried forward from its borders to its heartland and transformed it into an experimental playground (for death) and a battlefield for political liquidations. Lebanon has become the homeland of all revolutions and counter revolutions and the testing ground for certain political regimes and for its idle armies, the likes of which you know only too well. Lebanon has also become the substitute home for those rulers seeking to establish on its land false glories that they certainly do not enjoy in their own countries where the constitution… and moral values, have been taken hostage by militarism and hereditary republics… and you wonder, after all this, why my country Lebanon, is inhabited with anxiety and why its… body bleeds with what the wars have left behind, why its mind is perplexed and why it oscillates between its deep disappointment and its dreams of peace. Yet, in spite of all this, Lebanon remains and continues to be, the platform of freedom for all the Arab countries where in most cases, people continue to be hostages and victims of their own military regimes.

What Lebanon lacked was a strong central government, a military regime that ruled with an iron fist. This was obviously, but luckily, neither the destiny of Lebanon nor the will of the Lebanese people. Thus, in the absence of a strong army and a dominating political party, Lebanon remained weak, unable to defend itself, yet miraculously enduring. Ghada al-Samman’s continuous involvement in writing about the war in Lebanon and scrutinizing its causes and effects, in analyzing it and making judgments about the Lebanese society, can only confirm Ilham Shoukry’s observation that “The writings of the Syrian authors can only mean, in one way or another, that the Lebanese war is, after all, a Syrian affair.” There is no Arab literature, in general, that primarily focused on the Lebanese war, hence, “al-Samman, a Syrian writer, appears absolutely exceptional regarding this point.” No one can deny the underlying class struggle in Lebanon prior to 1975, but one must also remind all the critics who wrote about Beirut ‘75 and claimed it a “prophecy” that heralded the Lebanese civil war, and, supposedly, addressed all the evils and the causes of that bloody war, that this was after all a “regional war” having the root of its causes in the Arab – Israeli struggle and the massive and overwhelming military presence of the PLO in Lebanon that certainly tipped the balance of power and helped create a hostile environment not conducive to a peaceful coexistence. Even al-Samman herself admits, “The Lebanese war, has no doubt, affected every artist and writer, Lebanese and Arab…since the Lebanese war has Arab roots and causes, it no doubt, has touched the conscience of every creative Arab mind…our Lebanese war is an Arab war that belongs to us all.”

Although on more than one occasion, al-Samman clearly states that she does not belong to a particular political party nor does she advocate a certain regime, yet it is obvious that she supports Arab nationalism and wants Lebanon, for example, to be a wholesome and indivisible part of a greater Arab nation from the Gulf to the Ocean. The author adopts a clear political stand and emphatically states, using the plural pronoun, “We,” wanting us to understand beyond any doubt, that she speaks for an obvious political ideology. Al-Samman says:

We do not wish for Beirut to reclaim its previous position. We reject that everything returns to the way it was. We have offered tens of thousands of victims so that Beirut does not regain its previous status, but instead for her to have a future status with new foundations… We want to make out of Beirut a real center for Arab enlightenment… In the creative sense not only in the commercial sense …We aim to play an Arabic role that goes beyond the role of serving as an excellent hotel… Our ambition is to create a new vision…”

It becomes evident that al-Samman’s “political stance… is one that calls for the unity of the Arab world through the awakening of a pan-Arab nationalism. She believes that the cause of Lebanese unity is inseparable from the creation of a unified Arab world.” This passionate political view, in spite of its glorious consequences, should it materialize, has certainly narrowed the author’s ability to come to terms with some of the underlying causes for the war in Beirut. Lebanon is, above all, an Arab country “which has been especially imbued with the spirit of modernity” and its contributions to the Arab cause and the advancement of the Arabic language, literature and thought are pioneering and unparalleled. Although she repeatedly praises the climate of freedom in Lebanon in comparison with each and every other Arab country, yet she seems to deliberately neglect the cause of this very free air that “she breathes” and goes on to reject Lebanon’s western complexions:

… I am also against Westernizing Lebanon, against partitioning it, and against the continuity of its decayed… political system, its unjust social class system, against the authority of the minority, whose interest is associated with imperialism, over the welfare of the majority of the laboring people… And against covering the just struggle of the Lebanese masses… with the masks of religious sectarianism and against the isolationist and suspect calls that confirm that Lebanon descends from a Phoenician mother and an American sailor from the sixth Fleet who passed on the shores of Byblos.

Lebanon’s relationship with the sea is rather unique. It is really the ingenuity of its people that made the sea a vital extension to its borders. Perhaps the reason for Lebanon’s constant staring westward towards the Mediterranean, instead of only looking eastward, is emotional rather than political. Let us remember that Lebanon is the only Arab motherland that has more children living across the ocean than those residing within its borders.

Although the novel explores many of the underlying ills of Lebanese society, it does not offer any plausible solutions. It focuses on portraying the dark, pessimistic and existential side of society rather than attempting to also balance the picture by shedding a positive light on the other side of Beirut: the city of education, art, tourism, music and poetry. Because of such intentional deficiencies, the novel remains a one sided representation without the benefit of presenting a multidimensional tableau that captures life in all its vitality, diversity as well as shortcomings, in a hospitable city that never closed its doors in the face of any visitor, Arab or otherwise.
Through her political stance, Ghada al-Samaan’s identity crisis and existential viewpoint surface. She is clearly conflicted, yet she serves as an example of a Romantic character who has found a way out of her own personal “nightmare” and existential quest. If there is one character in Beirut ‘75 who offers any real hope, it is Ghada al-Samman herself. Her autobiography proves that she was able to rise above her personal circumstances and write courageously. She chose to stay in Beirut and reach out to her fellow man and woman versus falling into suicidal despair. Her daring novel and lifestyle remain an example of hope for those who have none. Ghada al-Samaan will always be a lover of Beirut, and Beirut will always love her. On many occasions, al-Samman has proven to be more Lebanese than many of the Beiruties themselves. At moments of ecstasy and serious contemplation she writes:

I will not leave Beirut… I am now racing with death, and because of this I try to write, I write as if I will die tomorrow…Beirut is the … dream of the Arab writer wherever he was… a dream stabbed with daggers drawn under various names and nationalities, just like Julius Caesar, it died … and the Arab writer cries for her more than any other Arab citizen because it was the city of the free word in the midst of an Arab world whose love diminishes daily … In Beirut the word roamed freely without a guillotine … Beirut was always the home for artists and writers for the cursed and the exiled… It will remain a symbol for freedom…a dream that I chase but will never desert… I will not forget that she embraced me when every one else rejected me… I bear in my heart the loyalty and the dream.”