A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

literary gems

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 23, 2008

Yesterday three big boxes of books, magazines, and clothing arrived from Iowa, courtesy of my very patient parents. (Actually, I think they were thrilled that I finally have a US address – I bet there are more boxes to follow, as they liberate the basement space that I have been i7tilal’ing since moving abroad several years ago. Its the muqawamat al-walidai, I guess :).)

In one of the boxes was a book I had found on Amazon several months ago – a children’s book about living through the civil war in Lebanon:

Sami and the Time of the Troubles was published in 1992, two years after the civil war officially ended. The authors are a mother-daughter team who have collaborated on a number of children’s books, including one set in Cairo and another set in Baghdad. (The daughter, Judith, lived in Beirut with her husband and two children during the civil war, and also seems to have lived in Cairo at some point.)

The book’s illustrations are beautiful watercolors showing two main scenes: the streets of Beirut, filled with old men in fezes smoking argileh and gutted streets where Sami plays and his mother shops when the fighting stops, and the basement where his family gathers during gun battles. The basement walls and floors have been covered with richly patterned carpets, making the space more cozy – but the image of adults huddled around a radio makes it clear that this is a more serious moment than the playful, child’s fort-like space it might otherwise seem.

The text is elliptical and restrained: it alludes to the absence of Sami’s father in mentions of the peaches he loved to grow and Sami’s mother’s hatred of guns, but leaves the reader to draw the unavoidable conclusion. Nor does it address the politics that undergirds the fighting. It does not suggest that anyone in Sami’s family is involved as a fighter or political operative, and only the children have names: Sami, his sister Leila, and his friend Amir – names that might be Muslim, might be Druze, or might be Christian.

Sami and the Time of the Troubles must have made something of a splash when it was published, as I found several sample lesson plans, including this one, which use it to teach children about geography or social issues. The lesson plan I linked to has a charming suggestion: that children write letters to Sami after reading the book. Unfortunately, the plan suggests that Sami lives in Iraq.

Same neighborhood, but different decade and very different war.

Your neighborhood library might have a copy of this book – and if so, its worth checking out. Otherwise, you can do as I did and order a used copy from Amazon or Ebay. The most recent search I did showed a used copy available from Amazon for $0.25 plus shipping – a bargain if you are looking for a way to give children or grandchildren a sense of what growing up during the civil war was like.

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2 Responses to “literary gems”

  1. deanjbaker said

    good to see, thanks

  2. […] literary gems […]

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