Finished February 1
Sitt Marie Rose by Etel Adnan, translated from the French by Georgina Kleege
This novel was first published in 1978, and received the France-Pays Arabes Award. The book is split into three parts. All take place in Beirut.
The first part is told from the point of view of an unnamed female writer who has been asked by a film-maker Mounir to write the script for a film he envisions about Syrian workers in Lebanon. His view of what the film should be and her investigations into Syrian workers don't fit together well, and shortly after their discussions the civil war in Lebanon breaks out. Mounir's friends Tony and Fouad and Pierre have often gone hunting in Syria and think of themselves in a certain way as being superior to the Syrians. As the fighting escalates, Mounir and his friends support the Phalangists, the Lebanese right. The war influences the writer's views further and she finds herself unable to work with Mounir.
The second part introduces us to Sitt Marie Rose. She is a Christian Lebanese middle-class woman, who, following a divorce, finds herself drawn to helping the Palestinians. She works for a social service agency giving the refugees assistance. She also runs a school in the Christian district for deaf mute children. When, during a truce, she makes the trek from her home in the Muslim part of the city to the school, she is captured by the Phalangists, and threatened with death. We see her views as well as the thoughts of the men who have captured her, and the children of the school who watch her interrogation by the men.
The third part is the end to Sitt Marie Rose's kidnapping at the hands of men who refer to themselves as the Chabab.
This is a book that examines the interactions, the fear and distrust between the different groups of Arabs here. It brings a wider look to the situation in the Middle East, and sadly, nothing has improved since this book was written, nearly forty years ago. She also brings the role of women into the story, looking at how women view themselves and how men view them. Sadly, this has not improved either in the Middle East. This story reads as prescient now.