A Balcony Over the Fakihani
Liyana Badr. Interlink, 1993, 127 pp.
List: $9.95; AET: $7.50.
Reviewed by Marilyn Raschka
In July 1981, scores of balconies in the Fakihani neighborhood of Beirut made the news when the Israeli air force dropped bombs on this crowded area with its mixed Palestinian and Lebanese population. In the U.S., however, what might otherwise have been front-page material was squeezed out by a domestic news story on the same day which, ironically, was about a balcony or walkway which collapsed in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri.
Palestinian author Liyana Badr focuses on just one balcony in Fakihani in her title story, one of three narrative novellas in this collection. The neighborhood looks as rundown today as it did in the 1982 setting Badr chose for her story. But Fakihani's commercial role as a bus and taxi center for areas east and south of Beirut gives it a lively look and it's easy to forget the years of violence that were played out here.
In Badr's first piece, "A Land of Rock and Thyme," Yusra, a young widow, cries out inconsolably: "Don't talk to me about forgetting." This theme is written into all the scenarios the author recreates from reallife events. Her intent of breathing life and its counterpart, death, into what are now archival newspaper reports is accomplished with skill and credibility. The stories are fiction only in format. The chronology and places are actual.
Each tells of the misery of Palestinian life in Lebanon, of endless flight and struggle. Telling of the siege of Tal al-Zaatar refugee camp by Christian militias, Badr focuses on the daily fight to get water. While the young Yusra is in line for water, her father is dying at home from a shrapnel wound. It is he who insists she not be summoned so that she won't lose her place in line.
So desperate for water, people would risk their lives and stubbornly stay in line even when the area was being shelled. Only when one of the men would turn off the tapwould they abandon the line and seek cover.
The violence of everyday life fills page after page. A piece of shrapnel is embedded in the stomach of an 11-year-old boy. The mother tries to take him to the Red Cross but can't get there. Badr tells the story no further but shifts back to the search for water.
She presents the brutality of those times in short single-paragraph episodes devoid of blame or accusation. Her main characters are young and have lived with violence all their lives. There is no surprise or fanfare.
When Yusra marries Ahmad, the couple move into a house in a deserted village, the only accommodation they can find: She describes it as "an eerie house with no doors, no windows, no floor and no sanitation...Stripped of its tile, the floor was just sand and gravel..."
Death follows life and life follows death in these stories. …