Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"It was hot and humid, the darkness sultry."

. . . It was hard to keep my eyelids open. I wished I could sleep. I wasn't awake enough to fall asleep. And I wasn't really asleep enough to pull myself awake. Trapped in that space between drowsiness and sleep. Somebody once told me that in situations like this, the only option is to adapt. Otherwise, it becomes unbearable. The first step in adapting is to practice forgetfulness. Oblivion.

Rashid al-Daif was born in 1945 in Zhgarta, a region in northern Lebanon populated largely by Maronite Christians. Like many leftist, secular Christians, he spent the civil war in West Beirut, an area known as the "targeted zone" between political and religious loyalties. The experience left him disillusioned with Marxist analytical thought, which felt dry and hollow in the face of history's onslaught. I needed "confession, screaming, and holding pain up in the face of recklessness," he recalled, and subsequently "went back to literature." For only the language of literature, al-Daif found, is as volatile as reality itself. (From the introduction by translator Nirvana Tanoukhi.)

First published in 1986, the original Arabic title of Passage to Dusk is Fus'hah mustahdafah bayna al-nu'as walnawn, which transliterates into "a targeted, or intentional, zone or space, in between drowsiness and sleep." True to its al-Daif's creative philosophy, the story is unstable and constantly shifting. The narrator has returned home after a shell blew his arm off and landed him in the hospital. The building superintendent tells him that his cousin arrived several days ago with his pregnant, widowed sister-in-law and her young son, and that he has lodged them in the narrator's empty apartment. They're still there and he hopes he doesn't mind. But anything beyond that is a waking dream. The narrator spends most of the time in bed, where the feverish heat merges with his PTSD visions in a fugue of unending violence and sexual energy. His voice is muted but his words describe a world dominated by the forces of passion - for faith, party, people - that sweep everyone and everything along in all their tragic senselessness. Beirut is suspended, caught in a zone where the only thing that moves is the cycle of destruction.

At only 100 pages, Passage to Dusk is condensed to what feels like the dream of a single night. Bombs, bloodshed, falling buildings, and sectional warfare have been a universal story throughout the twentieth century, but al-Daif's surrealism is an unusual interpretation. Haunting and evocative, Passage to Dusk is best read in a single sitting to best drive home its visceral impact.

Shop Indie Bookstores


Related Posts with Thumbnails