Beirut through vaseline: Season of Betrayal
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 2, 2008
My latest used book purchase arrived in last Tuesday’s mail – just in time for me to stash it in my carry-on when I flew home the next day. I had been wanting to read Margaret Lowrie Robertson’s Season of Betrayal since I had run across a mention of it earlier this fall.
I’m always a sucker for books set in Beirut, and this one, which follows the disintegrating marriage of a journalist and his wife during a stint in Beirut in the early 1980s, seemed promising.
It was a good read, and my thoughts have returned to mull over bits of it several times this week. But two things kept me from liking the book as much as I wanted to.
First, the main character, Lara, is an absolute wet rag. She spends much of the book doing nothing. I understand that this is her character, and it makes the impact of her final denouement action all the stronger, but … I found it hard to relate to her. She did so little to make her situation any better – and so little, period – that it was like watching her through glass smeared with Vaseline.
Second, Robertson’s characterization of the actors in the civil war in the early 1980s was a bit heavy-handed. She takes a very teleological perspective on the Syrians, Hizbullah (whose existence as an organization at this point in time is debated), Islamic Jihad, Amal, and ‘the Druze’ – by which I mean that she describes them much as a Bush Administration official might have in 2006. Its helpful to the reader unfamiliar with Lebanon, because it doesn’t require him/her to stretch him/herself by thinking historically, but it isn’t accurate.
On the other hand, the fact that I am still thinking about the book – and now writing about it – means that these two “flaws” are also precisely the elements that keep me engaged six days after reading it. So: if you have a long plane ride in your future and can be patient with an indecisive woman and a tricky, war-ridden city, you are in for an engrossing read.