Lebanese author Sarah Houssayni provides insight into the life and challenges of Shiite residents in the suburbs of Beirut in her new book, “Fireworks.”
Fireworks, the debut novel from Lebanese-born Sarah Houssayni, transports readers to the Shiite suburbs leveled and devastated during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War. Quite literally a tale of war and peace, the book illustrates the stark contrast in the lives of Lebanese people during this time, divided by their socioeconomic settings and religious backgrounds.
Fireworks tells the story of two women thrown into the Hezbollah Israel war of 2006. Angie is a thirty year old nurse from Kansas, in Beirut for the summer to get away from a broken heart. Zahra is a sixteen year old Shiite, on summer break and in love for the first time. Through terror, loss, grief, self-forgiveness and the workings of a local doctor, the two women move from despair to grace and to the long-awaited shore.
“Fireworks illuminates the complexity of religious codes and cultural boundaries. From Kansas City to Beirut, Houssayni’s characters navigate family tension, political unrest, and unexamined grief. This is a writer full of curiosity and courage.” –Christine Hemp, award winning poet and NPR host,www.christinehemp.com
“This story could not be more timely. The breadth of Houssayni’s empathetic imagination in Fireworks is impressive; the writing is sensitive to difference in the best sense.” –Charles Holdefer, author of The Contractor
“Sarah Houssayni’s Fireworks delivers a vivid and rewarding tale. From Kansas City to New York City, to Beirut and Lebanon, Houssayni’s debut encompasses and transcends the known world through characters that are fully fleshed and deftly wrought. This story gets to the heart of everything we are: socially, politically, psychologically and emotionally. Brilliantly plotted. I couldn’t put it down. –Juliet Patterson, author of The Truant Lover and Dirge
Amidst the chaos, two women – Angie, a thirty year old nurse from Kansas who visits Beirut for the summer to escape a broken heart, and Zahra, a sixteen year old Shiite on summer break and in love for the first time – cross paths. In the thick of terror, loss, grief, self-forgiveness and the workings of a local doctor, the two women move from despair to grace.
Through Zahra’s story in particular, readers get a first-hand look at a patriarchal society in which women are afforded few rights and liberties. At her family’s behest, Zahra has to accept an unwanted engagement in order to provide her mother a place to stay. Fighting authority and defying the rules, she decides to give her body to the man she truly loves, in order to avoid being a virgin when she marries the unwanted fiancé. The man she loved, however, finds himself unsure of wanting a rebellious woman, even if the fight was for him.
“People who break social norms are in constant hiding in this part of the world, each managing differently to reconcile their identity and society,” says Houssayni. “Nadim, a gay physician in the book, loves and serves his people who would throw him in jail or even kill him if they knew about his secret life.”
Fireworks offers a unique perspective of Shiite women in the Hezbollah suburbs that suffered the brunt of the war, gay men in Lebanon, and uncensored peeks at the rest of the social classes, religions and ways of life in a very diverse environment. The subliminal and overt struggles between Sunnis and Shiites, Hezbollah and its local opponents set up a historically accurate foundation for what the area became following 2006. Loss and grief, as unwelcome as the violent two month war ultimately bring surrender and eventual peace.
In captivating prose, themes explored in Fireworks include:
- The daily reality of men and women in Lebanon, their lifestyles colored differently by their religious and socioeconomic backgrounds
- Feminism in the Middle East
- The daily struggles of the LGBT community in Lebanon
- Patriarchy in Islam and the Arab World
- Love lived, lost and reconciled
Sarah Houssayni was born in Beirut, Lebanon. At age 25, she moved to the United States to complete her training in Pediatrics. Sarah now lives in Wichita, KS, where she is a clinical assistant professor at Kansas University. Through her clinical work and writing, she advocates for refugees and immigrants in the U.S. Her previously published titles include Narratives in Family Medicine, Survive and Thrive, The Examined Life and Pulse Voices.
Fireworks will be available for purchase on February 27th, 2015 from Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com and through all major booksellers.
February 27, 2015)
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