We here at the Displaced Nation simply can’t get enough of the displaced thriller-writer Alexander McNabb. Last month he gave away his first book in his Levant series, Olives — A Violent Romance, to several lucky Displaced Nation readers. (Yes, they were thrilled!) And today we announce a couple of more McNabb giveaways, including of his second book, Beirut (see below). But before we explode with excitement, let’s hear what Alexander has to say about that notoriously dangerous city…
— ML Awanohara
To start off, I’d like to present a passage from my new book, Beirut, that I hope captures the flavor of this historic and extremely dynamic Middle Eastern city. The scene centers on the displaced Gerald Lynch, the British Secret Intelligence Service officer we encountered in Olives:
It was late in the afternoon as Gerald Lynch hopped along the uneven paving that lined Gouraud Street, the heart of Beirut’s bustling Gemayze area. He wore jeans and a leather jacket against the chill spring air, his hands in his pockets as he squeezed between the parked cars.
Gouraud’s bars, as ever, welcomed those who wanted to party and forget the woes of a world where violence and conflict were a distant memory but a constant worry. Orphaned by Belfast’s troubles, Lynch appreciated Beirut’s fragile peace and sectarian divides, the hot embers under the white ash on the surface of a fire that looked, to the casual observer, as if it had gone out. Lynch scowled as he passed a poster carrying Michel Freij’s smiling face, encircled in strong black script: “One Leader. One Lebanon.”
There can be few places on earth so sexy, dark, cosmopolitan and brittle as Beirut. At night the city celebrates with a vigour that borders on the manic. Louche young things puff cigarette smoke up into the air, DJs make music, poets dream and artists stencil the walls with the painful irony of youth. Drinkers drink, dancers dance. They celebrate life there as only people who realize how slender the tightrope they walk is — as only a people who collaborated in a 15-year-long enterprise designed to wipe themselves, and their country, off the face of the earth can.
But first, the country
It’s important to understand that Lebanon is a country of divides: north and south; mountain and coast; Shia, Sunni, Christian and Druze.
The country was born out of Greater Syria and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War II. The French as the reigning colonial power created it by cobbling together communities who had been in conflict since the Crusades and legislating their way through ancient attitudes and rivalries.
Lebanon’s answer? To enshrine the sectarianism in its constitution, with each religious sect being given its own proscribed role.
Beirut, the Monte Carlo of the East
From its early days as Roman Berytus, Beirut — Lebanon’s capital and largest city — has been a city with greatness in her heart. Surrounded by lush Mediterranean countryside, the verdant Chouf mountains and the glorious fecundity of the Bekaa Valley, served by the sea and a history of maritime trade going back to the Phoenicians, Beirut developed in the course of the 20th century into a major financial center and trade entrepôt.
It was “the Monte Carlo of the East,” the jewel of the Mediterranean. Rich Arab playboys tossed cash around them like leaves; mean-eyed British spies clung to the hotel bars, trading waspish observations and gathering undiplomatic innuendoes. And the women! The olive-skinned beauties of the Levant, like Beirut itself, were so welcoming, so corrupting!
The impact of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990)
Lebanon tore itself apart in a war as senseless as any other, admirably abetted by the Palestine Liberation Organization, Syria and Russia, America and Israel. It’s always the outsiders who throw kindling on the hot passions of Lebanon’s divisions. And then the Lebanese pay a heavy price for their lack of moderation and willingness to invite those outsiders in.
After the war, Beirut dragged itself wearily to its feet, slowly but surely rebuilding its commercial heart — the efforts to rebuild dogged by constant conflict, corruption and terrible old men who weave together influence and fear to maintain their profitable status quo.
When the war finally ended, in 1990, the travel magazines were starting to gush about Beirut again — its stunning restaurants, funky bars and glorious sights.
But the potential for violence remains. As you may recall, a deadly car bomb attack occurred in October of this year. It tore a busy square in Ashrafiyeh apart, killing the head of Lebanese intelligence.
A bomb as big as the monstrous blast that had taken the life of Rafiq Hariri in 2005, the man who had led the effort to rebuild Beirut — an explosion big enough to make the Syrians finally quit Lebanon.
Both of these car-bomb assassinations left three-meter craters.
The book Beirut
Although Beirut — An Explosive Thriller is set across a swathe of Europe and not just Beirut, the book is about Beirut at its core. It’s about sectarianism and power, corruption and sex. It’s about wealth and poverty, love and betrayal.
While writing it, I spent hours walking around the city, along the curving corniche and up into the busy streets that cling to the foothills rising from the coast up to the snow-capped mountains.
Walking with friends, walking alone — day and night, spring and summer. From the maze of funky little bars of Hamra to the boutiques of Verdun, from the spicy Armenian groceries of Bourj Hammoud to the cafés overlooking the famous rocks at Raouché, I have long reveled in the city’s beautiful wealth and its grim poverty.
How can you not write books set in the Levant? I’m only amazed I’m in such scant company. As a playground for spies and powerful men, beautiful women and deadly conflicts you can’t beat it. And yet, as a writer of novels, I have it pretty much to myself.
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Now it’s time for the freebies! Displaced Nation readers, you can get your very own copy of my latest book. Here are 2 ways to do so:
1) For TDN readers with an iPad or ePub compatible reader (Nook, Sony, Kobo, Android etc): Get your copy of Beirut — An Explosive Thriller free of charge (and save $4.99) on Smashwords. But first, you’ll need to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH to get the code (it will come in the issue delivered this Saturday, December 8). NOTE: The code is valid ONLY FROM THIS SATURDAY, DECEMBER 8th TO MONDAY DECEMBER 10 — and then, pfft, it’ll disappear. Dear readers, you are MORE than welcome to share that code with family, friends, strangers, dogs in the street — even lawyers.
2) For TDN readers with Kindles: Leave a comment on this post with your e-mail, and I will send a Kindle file and instructions how to install it. Best I can do, I’m afraid — Amazon doesn’t let me do freebies! Do remember to use “name dot name at domain dot com” so the spambots don’t find you! Or you can hit me up directly at @AlexanderMcNabb on Twitter.
If you miss out on these opportunities and/or would like to read something else I’ve written, my first novel, Space (a spoof of international spy thrillers), is available for free download on Amazon from today onwards for three days.
TO ALL READERS: If anyone wants to add their voice (whichever way it leans) about my books on Amazon or Goodreads, that’s welcome feedback. The more people know they exist, the merrier! 🙂
Finally, congrats to Apple Gidley, who left an engaging comment on my last post and will be getting a print copy of Olives by post!
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, consisting of some 2012 highlights from the Anthony Windram series, Expat Moments.
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Images (of the book, of Beirut): All from Alexander McNabb.