Monday, July 24, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Lamia Ziadé

Title: Bye Bye Babylon: Beirut 1975-1979
Writer and Artist: Lamia Ziadé

via Amazon

Bye Bye Babylon is Lamia Ziadé's graphic memoir about her childhood in Beirut, when one of the most beautiful cities in the world was reduced to a war-torn hell-scape in a matter of weeks.  Ziadé was seven years old when the Lebanese Civil War erupted.  Her story begins with the images of Bazooka bubblegum, Kraft marshmallows and other consumer products familiar throughout the world.  It soon moves to the weaponry of war, pictures that shouldn't be part of anyone's normal day, let alone a young child's.  Her artwork appears painted rather than drawn, with sharper lines for the war and political material than for the dreamier, mostly pre-war elements.

Though I didn't plan it that way, this was my second read in a row with Babylon in the title (see here).  Both this and Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon draw on the biblical/historical story of a great city lost.  There are common themes as the communities in each adapt to the realities of war: supply shortages, inconsistent and unreliable communication from the outside world, violence, lawlessness, death, uncertainty, fear.  There's an essential difference, of course.  Frank's work is fiction.  Ziadé's is the real deal.  The Lebanese Civil War really happened, a deeply embedded experience for millions.

Ziadé offers an intimate view.  There are sweet moments throughout her story, even after the war begins but one always feel horrors lurking on the next page.  The author has lived in Paris for most of her life but clearly still loves her native country.  She makes me wish I could visit Beirut before the war.

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