The story of one woman’s reckless and liberated adolescence in the brutal atmosphere of 1970s and ’80s Beirut.
Al-Joundi’s upbringing was unusual. She was raised by an irreverent, politically outspoken and determinedly secular intellectual father, who, on his daughter’s eighth birthday, got her drunk on a good bottle of Bordeaux. He taught her that bras were symbols of oppression, bribed her into giving up a fledgling effort to keep Ramadan with a shot of whiskey and celebrated her growing sexual promiscuity, offering the scandalous paternal dictum: “never offer your ass up to the sky. Offer it to men as much as you want, but not to the good Lord. You may drink, go out, lose your virginity, but…in my house I don’t ever want to see anyone pray or fast.” The story also widens to take in the scope of the larger cultural moment: the family’s exile in Baghdad and return to Beirut, Al-Joundi’s drug addiction and the years of anonymous sex, the cruelty of war and the omnipresence of death seen through the eyes of a precocious young woman rendered entirely unfit for the world she inhabited. The book begins with her father making her promise that at his funeral no one will read from the Koran, but play Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” instead. When Al-Joundi keeps that promise, the result is a series of staggeringly cruel betrayals, described in prose that is beautifully taut and relentlessly unemotional.
A pitiless, steely narrative, alternately heartbreaking and compelling.