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My Port of Beirut

My Port of Beirut

by Lamia Ziadé

Translated by Emma Ramadan

Beautifully illustrated, intimately personal and politically trenchant account of Beirut's catastrophic 2020 port explosion

In August 2020, Lebanon was in the midst of the global pandemic and a devastating economic crisis. People protested in the streets, calling for the removal of a political elite accused of greed, negligence and incompetence. The Lebanese people felt as though their country was staring into the abyss. But the worst was yet to come.

On the evening of August 4, 2020, Hangar 12 of the Port of Beirut exploded, and then exploded again. A shockwave moving faster than the speed of sound tore through Beirut, leaving nearly 200 people dead, 6,000 injured and 300,000 homeless. The blast had been caused by the storing of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate alongside a stash of fireworks - a deadly arrangement about which the government had known, but done nothing.

For six months straight, French-Lebanese author and artist Lamia Ziadé wrote, illustrated and recorded every new piece of information, every photograph of the wreckage or the wounded that made its way around WhatsApp groups, Instagram and Twitter. In My Port of Beirut, Ziadé weaves together the play-by-play of the tragedy with her own personal stories, as well as the historical and political background that made such a catastrophe possible and, perhaps, inevitable.

Lamia Ziadé is a Lebanese author, illustrator and visual artist. Born in Beirut in 1968 and raised during the Lebanese Civil War, she moved to Paris at 18 to study graphic arts. She then worked as a designer for Jean-Paul Gaultier, exhibited her art in numerous galleries internationally, and went on to publish several illustrated books, including My Port of BeirutMa très grande mélancolie arabe which won the Prix France-Liban, Ô nuit, ô mes yeux and Bye bye Babylone.

Emma Ramadan is an educator and literary translator from French. She is the recipient of the PEN Translation Prize, the Albertine Prize, two NEA Fellowships, and a Fulbright. Her translations include A Country for Dying by Abdellah Taïa, Zabor, or the Psalms by Kamel Daoud, Panics by Barbara Molinard, and The Easy Life by Marguerite Duras.

'A personal, impassioned account of a crime committed against the Lebanese people’

- Ursula Lindsey, ‘New York Review of Books’

'Magical ... Lamia Ziadé works as an alchemist. My Port of Beirut tells the story of the explosion as she experienced it: from afar but in the heart. She draws the faces of the victims, collects the stories, reproduces the graffiti against the corrupt leaders, and explains these destroyed buildings which to us are only buildings for us but for her are symbols, memories, her life... A book of love, mourning and anger'

- 'Elle'

'A very moving tribute... the Franco-Lebanese illustrator and writer has been developing a very personal literary genre for several years, made up of very colourful texts and drawings, reproductions of photos taken from private archives or press articles... Here, she erects a mausoleum to the victims of the disaster, and over the pages, the simple succession of their faces and their names creates intense emotion'

- Les Inrockuptibles

'Lamia Ziadé tells here in the first person the contemporary history of her native country, its violence, the very year of her birth in 1968, which is also that of the first stone laid for the port silos, for which she has had a passion since childhood... Through this emblematic place that she makes her own, her port of Beirut, she writes a Lebanese autobiography of words and images that will speak to every reader'

- Le Point (April 2021)

'Lamia Ziadé tells not only her personal trauma but also the story of the familiar and common violence that crossed her country (and all her life since her birth in 1968) and to which the explosion of the 2,750 tons of nitrate from ammonium from hangar 12 gives an overwhelming sense of endless curse... She mixes narrative and drawings, entangling her biography in the collective destiny to honour here, first and foremost, the memory of victims she did not know.'

- Livres Hebdo (30 March 2021)

'Brutal, touching... '

- Politis

'To re-see the Port of Beirut explosion through the softened lens of Lamia Ziade’s watercolors, paired with her personal and family memories of the port, is to re-live it with a raw tenderness that remains full of rage-struck grief'

- M. Lynx Qualey, Founding editor, ArabLit & ArabLit Quarterly

'Haunted by the city’s violent history, this polyphonic diary of the Beirut Port apocalypse is as poignant as it is meticulous. With the tender rage of a broken heart, Lamia Ziadé turns helplessness into a dazzling act of bearing witness.'

- Omar Berrada, writer and curator

‘Extraordinary’

- 'Ms. Magazine'

Prologue: August 4, 2020
1: The Sirens of the Port of Beirut
2: The Heroes
3: “A steamer enters the haze of the port of Beirut”
4: The Enchantment of Objects
5: The Saint George Hospital
6: Lady Cochrane
7: The Third Basin
8: My Sister’s Friends
9: Guilt
10: Sacy and Noun
11: The Criminals
12: Report on the Port, 1956
13: My Father’s Stubbornness
14: A Peaceful and Gentle People
15: My Sister on the Telephone
16: Who?
17: Beirut, Nest of Spies
18: The Port, Like the Country
19: Thawra, Birth of a Nation
20: October 17th
21: A Turn for the Worse

Published by Pluto Press in May 2023
Paperback ISBN: 9780745348124
eBook ISBN: 9780745348131

144mm x 205mm