Beirut 2020: The Collapse of a Civilization, a Journal
Translated by Ruth Diver
When Charif Majdalani begins to walk the streets of his city, and to write down what he sees, the first hints of unrest within a vibrant culture creep to the fore.
‘The author’s home town is falling apart. Lebanon’s capital … has morphed into a symbol of devastation and hatred and madness. Majdalani is a survivor who still finds in himself the elegance to smile and hope.’ – Amin Maalouf, Prix Goncourt winner
Majdalani’s reportage through the months of 2020 bears witness to the ways in which an ancient civilization slowly, then rapidly, descends into the abyss: corruption and vice infect the corridors of power; currency plummets into freefall, rats scurry between piles of rotting rubbish that grow higher along the pavements. Born from the rancour of existential pestilence, violence erupts and Beirut’s citizens find themselves in high-voltage stand-offs with law enforcement.
Then, the unexpected, Beirut collapses under the explosive force of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate. The blast kills hundreds and injures thousands. But through the rubble and the sirens, a people finds its strength to survive and its heart to unite. The city becomes the metaphor for each of our cultural capitals throughout the world.