A cartoonist uses his art to connect the world he sees collapsing outside with the psychological state crumbling within.
In 2005, Warner (Brief Histories of Everyday Objects, 2016, etc.) broke up with his girlfriend and moved to Beirut, where he felt rootless, stateless, unsure of his bearings, and unstable in ways that reminded him of his past. There was a history of mental illness in his family, and he questioned his sanity, identity, and grip on present, past, and future. “In my diary,” he writes, “I felt like a character in a story that I was writing years later.” Identity remains a tricky concept for him, and besides, “memory is a tricky business.” The author experienced his inner turmoil amid a particularly explosive period in Lebanon, a time of assassination and strife with Syria and fear from bombings by unknown perpetrators (an attack from within or by outside forces?), as well as U.S. aggression toward the Middle East under the George W. Bush administration, inflamed anti-American sentiment. Warner found kindred spirits and a community of sorts among Beirut’s gay and lesbian subculture, in whose company he began questioning his sexual identity or at least opening himself to possibility in the absence of his girlfriend. The tone throughout is matter-of-fact and dispassionate, which juxtaposes against the crazed desperation of his powerful artistic expression. “I was drawing my comic. I was drawing on my walls. I was drawing on myself,” he writes. He wasn’t alone in his feelings about how the world was driving him mad or reflecting the madness within. “A bomb going off every three days is enough to make anybody crazy,” noted a woman with whom Warner became casually involved. “But anyway, it’s not just Lebanon! Look at America. Bush just won reelection. That dumbass…invaded Iraq only two years ago!” Ultimately, the author left Lebanon with some of his sanity and identity intact, and when he returned years later, he did so with fresh eyes and haunted memories.
The political and psychological potently intertwine within this highly charged memoir.