After all, who didn't go through the most improbable adventure during the civil war?
Mikhail Bulgakov, Black Snow
When a Lebanese wants your attention, he lowers his voice. You draw closer, and he asks: 'Do you want to hear a story?' If you say yes, and everyone does, you're hooked. You listen. In the most Lebanese of his novels, Little Mountain, Elias Khoury tells a story about stories. In 1975, early in the civil war, fighters of the pro-Palestinian leftist-Muslim alliance are trapped inside Beirut's Cathedral of Saint Louis during a battle with the Christian militias. An old French priest starts talking to them. He came to Lebanon as a soldier in 1920, he tells them; his regiment advanced on Damascus to depose King Feisal. The French defeat of Feisal's army at the Maysaloun Pass brought to an end the prospect of post-Ottoman Arab unity and independence. It also set the stage for the civil war that his listeners were then waging. 'I took part in many other battles,' Father Marcel says. 'In the battles for Jabal Druze and Ghawtah, outside Damascus. And I recall that we were models of chivalry and discipline, and harmed no one.' Shells falling around the cathedral light up the priest's memory.
LRB 4 August 2005 | PDF Download