A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

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.


2 Responses to “Beirut through vaseline: Season of Betrayal”

  1. qussa said

    Love the cover, but from the description it sounds like a book that would drive me bonkers… if only because it is set in Beirut! In that sense I am your total opposite: I try to avoid stories taking place in Beirut as much as I can, because usually the factual (or even perceived) inaccuracies distract me too much from the story…

  2. Nicolien, I do go bonkers at the inaccuracies – my feathers get totally ruffled, just as they do when I watch “historical” movies that aren’t very. But I still prefer reading about places I know to places I don’t – perhaps because I can recognize the inaccuracies and shift my appreciation of the book accordingly, rather than missing them entirely :).

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