... A shootout in a church in a northern Lebanese village on 16 June 1957 in which some two dozen people are killed. The tearing apart of the community into two bitterly divided clans. Neighbour turning against neighbour; husbands and wives forced to choose between their loyalty to one another and clan loyalty...
This is the loosely fact-based scenario of Lebanese academic, novelist and short story writer Jabbour Douaihy's novel June Rain newly published by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) in English translation by Paula Haydar. The Arabic original of the novel, Matar Hzayran, was published by Dar Al-Nahar in Beirut in 2006. It was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) in 2008 - the prize's inaugural year.
Douaihy was born in the northern Lebanese town of Zgharta in 1949. On 16 June 1957 there was a massacre during a requiem mass in the village of Miziara near Zgharta, when the Franjieh family, allegedly led by future president of Lebanon Suleiman Franjieh, attacked the competing Douaihy clan.
Jabbour DouaihyDouaihy dedicates June Rain to the Lebanese journalist, historian, author and publisher Samir Kassir who was assassinated in Beirut in 2005. In an interview with NOW Lebanon Jabbour pays tribute to Kassir's vital role in inspiring and encouraging the writing of the novel. It was Kassir who "gave me the idea of writing a literary novel about the background of the massacre of Meziara, which took place in our area in 1957. And that is precisely why I dedicated the novel to him, knowing that the murderers didn’t allow him to read more than two chapters of this novel; he had asked me to send him every chapter I finished writing.
"The idea as it crystallized in our discussions is that the Zawiya area in Zghorta underwent a period of civil violence that could easily be considered as a rehearsal for the civil war that stormed Lebanon in 1975. I lived these events at an early age, and I experienced the trauma that you can’t erase, as did a whole generation. All the details are hearsay, as two parties would tell a tale in a completely contradictory fashion and justify it as defense, no more"
June Rain depicts the return to the village of Eliyya, twenty years after he emigrated to the USA. Eliyya is intent on learning about his father, who was shot through the heart in the church massacre, and whom he never knew. Eliyya had been conceived shortly before the church killings. Through his novel Douaihy evokes the horrors of internal division in Lebanon through the prism of observations of daily life in a village where revenge is the prevailing system of justice.
Prior to its publication in English by BQFP, June Rain was published in French (by Sindbad, Actes Sud), Italian (Feltrinelli) and German (Hanser). The world translation rights are with RAYA Agency for Arabic literature.
Paula HaydarThe translator to English of June Rain Paula Haydar is Instructor of Arabic Language in the Department of Foreign Languages at the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies, University of Arkansas. Haydar has translated various works of Arabic literature to English including novels by Lebanese writers Elias Khoury and Rachid Al-Daif, and by Palestinian writers Sahar Khalifeh and Adania Shibli. She has also translated short stories and poems that have appeared in international and national journals, and is a regular contributor to Banipal magazine of modern Arab literature.
Jabbour has a PhD degree in Comparative Literature from the Sorbonne and is a professor of French literature at the Lebanese University in Beirut. He is the acclaimed author of many novels and short story collections. He was shortlisted for IPAF a second time in 2012 for his novel Charid al-Manazil (journalist Anwar Hamed outlines the novel on the IPAF website here.). IPAF renders the title in English as The Vagrant: RAYA has it as Chased Away.
In all RAYA represents six titles by Jabbour. In addition to June Rain and Chased Away. they are Hayy Al Amerkan (American Neighborhood, Dar al-Saqi 2014); Ayn Warda (Rose Fountain, 2002); Rayya an-nahr (Rayya-of-the-river, Dar an-Nahar -Beirut); Iitidal al-kharif (Autumn Equinox), Dar an-Nahar). The English translation of Autumn Equinox, by Nay Hannawi, was published in 2001 by the University of Arkansas Press. French rights to Ayn Warda were acquired by Sindbad, Actes Sud which published it in 2009 as Rose Fountain Motel in translation by Emmanuel Varlet.
The latest title, Hayy Al Amerkan, is a highly topical novel set in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, in a quarter that is a cradle of salafism in Lebanon. Fighters are trained there to fight in Iraq. RAYA says: "As always, Douaihy offers a minute description of a city he knows well, Tripoli. With tenderness, and sarcasm, he introduces the reader to the complex world of the “American neighborhood”, a poor area of Tripoli where religious extremism has drastically increased in recent years.
American Neighborhood published by Dar al-Saqi
Susannah Tarbush, London