Lebanese Literary World Pays Homage to Late Emily Nasrallah

Published September 5th, 2018 - 05:00 GMT
Emily Nasrallah. (AFP/ File Photo)
Emily Nasrallah. (AFP/ File Photo)

“Al Makan,” the last book by the late Emily Nasrallah will be launched Wednesday, alongside a panel discussion and film projection paying tribute to the famed writer’s life and legacy.

Published by Dar Onboz, “Al Makan” recounts Nasrallah’s childhood and early adulthood, set within a history that extends from the late 19th to early 20th century and includes letters, photos and previously untold stories. “It’s an autobiography that we’ve transformed into a triptych,” Dar Onboz director Nadine Touma said.

“We added maps, infographics and a pocket dictionary. We wanted to pay homage to an extremely beautiful and grand human and writer. She deserved to have an oeuvre, not just a book. “She talks about ... her life with her matriarchal lineage, before she became the writer everyone knows now,” Touma added.

“She grew up with her mother’s side of the family and pays tribute to them in this book.”

Born in 1931, Nasrallah was raised in the south Lebanese village of Kfeir, near Jabal al-Shaykh. In 1962, her debut novel “Touyour Ayloul” (Birds of September), was published and went on to win three Arabic literary awards. Completed just before passing away in March, “Al Makan” is Nasrallah’s 32nd published work.

Her writings predominantly focus on Lebanese village life, migration, women’s emancipation efforts and identity issues in the country’s Civil War.

Dar Onboz’s “triptych,” splits “Al Makan” into three components – the written autobiography, maps showing Lebanon’s internal and external migration, and a pocket dictionary.

“The maps [document] movement across time and [space] ... a topic of great importance of Emily,” Touma said. “All the words that are colored in the book are [explained] in the dictionary and there are over 300 words, images, photographs that span this book, like a geographical and linguistic reference.

“It helps the reader to visualize her world and what she saw and experienced on a day-to-day basis,” she added, flicking through the book. “For example, this little red flower called ‘Skukaa,’ [Cyclamen] was her favorite flower and with this you can see what it looked like.”

Though migration is central to her work, the book shows that Nasrallah never really left Lebanon. Her birthplace had a big impact on her life and outlook. “She witnessed the migration of almost everyone around her but she never left Lebanon,” Touma said. “All her writings on immigration are more a reflective form of writing and how it affected her family and those she loved, rather than a longing for her home.”

Wednesday’s “Al Makan” launch at AUB’s Issam Fares Institute will be a salute to Nasrallah and her work.

“We will reveal a postal stamp created for Emily and there will be a talk about the creation of the book’s concept and how inspired we are by her journey,” Touma elaborated. Speakers will include Hartmut Fahndrich, who translated Nasrallah’s work into German, and historian Toufoul Abou-Hodeib, who specializes in the era the book recounts.

“There will also a short film that we will eventually make into a bigger film called ‘Makan Emily,’” Touma continued, “made of bits and pieces of interviews we conducted with her.”

This weekend, Nasrallah’s childhood home in Kfeir will be opened to the public. “Beit Touyour Ayloul, her childhood house, is being transformed into a cultural space, public library and artists’ residency centering on the topic of immigration,” Touma said. “On Saturday and Sunday we will have an exhibition on the book and open the space itself.”

Several of Nasrallah’s previously unpublished personal stories are included in her final tome. There are anecdotes about when her two uncles – one whom she admired for his intelligence and another who paid for her education – left for the West.

“Al Makan” also documents part of her mother’s story. “They never knew why many of the villagers harassed her,” Touma recounted. “What happened was a rich man came to the village and married Emily’s mother and then divorced her a week later, without the bloody sheet being shown. Everyone assumed it was because she wasn’t a virgin.

“In truth, he paid the clergymen a lot of money to divorce them. Forty years later, they discovered it was because he was impotent, when his second wife came to the village,” she added. “Emily didn’t understand the villagers’ insults as a child. To find out the real reason after all this time was a poignant, but not sensationalized, moment for her.”

Nasrallah remained deeply rooted in her rural upbringing, even after she moved to Beirut to study. Everything – from the image of Jabal al-Shaykh overlooking Kfeir, to the village dialect – was an unshakable facet of her identity.”

“She also talks about her time as a journalist and how she used to walk for ages in circles around [Martyrs Square] to try to absorb the vibe of the city,” Touma said. “I asked her, ‘Did you ingest it?’ She said, ‘No I never did. I spoke with a qaf till the last of my days.’”

“Al Makan” is launched at AUB’s Issam Fares Institute Sept. 5 at 6 p.m.

The opening of Beit Touyour Ayloul in Kfeir will take place Sept. 8-9, 12 p.m. 70 917156

This article has been adapted from its original source.

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