It is the summer of 2006, and nineteen-year-old London music student, Layla, returns home for the holidays to a now peaceful Lebanon. When she arrives, though, she finds that her troubled younger brother has gone missing. “Borrowing” her father’s car, she heads to Beirut to search for him, meeting a variety of people along the way. But her quest is cut short when, without warning, Beirut comes under heavy artillery fire. A new war has begun, and now she is trapped in the middle of it.
When you Lose Something
Many years ago, a friend gave me an Irish worry monk for my birthday. At least, that’s what she called it. The circle of glass sat neatly in my palm, hard, cool and smooth as a pebble, with the vague impression of a face on it. Instantly, I loved it, and over the course of many a conversation, it was there, being turned round and round in my hand, growing warm and familiar – so familiar I would forget it was there.
The monk remained with me through the years, until one day he was gone. I searched in all the familiar places, places where I was certain I would find him, because that was where he last was, I had put him there myself, I had!
Just buy a new one, I hear you say. I could, but it wouldn’t be the same. That worry monk was my worry monk. He was unique, as each one is, the molten glass forming its own particular cast. Anyway, I told myself, he’ll turn up. And I know he’s somewhere in the house, because I never took him anywhere else. That fact is comforting and frustrating in equal measures.
To misplace an object is one thing, but for a family member to go missing is quite another. That’s what happens in my novel, Paper Sparrows. On a summer break from university in London, Layla goes back home to Lebanon to visit her family. When she arrives, though, she finds that her father and her younger brother Ziad have argued, and Ziad has left, nobody knows where to. When he still hasn’t returned the next day, Layla takes matters into her own hands. She is not one to quietly sit back and wait, so while her father is at work, she “borrows” his car and drives to nearby Beirut to find Ziad.
Accompanied by a stray dog her brother has befriended, she is soon following a trail. She journeys across the capital, and as she does, she finds out more about her brother, her country and herself. But overnight, everything is turned upside down when war suddenly flares up between Israel and Hizballah, and Beirut comes under heavy bombardment. What should she do? Should she abandon her search and leave Ziad to fend for himself?
Layla stays, braving artillery fire and sheltering in a stranger’s cellar. She searches through the rubble of a devastated city for her brother, and when she can’t find him, still refuses to believe that he is dead. He is here somewhere, she knows it, she can feel it.
It would be a spoiler to say whether Layla finds her brother or not. What I can tell you, though, is that my worry monk still hasn’t turned up. But then, as I am beginning to suspect, maybe someone finally had enough and decided to put an end to my eternal fiddling with the damned thing!
Coda: The day after I wrote the above, I was looking through a big box of painting materials I hadn’t used for years, and guess what I found? Yes, a long-lost Irish worry monk! Now if that’s not spooky .
Thank you, Nathalie Abi-Ezzi and Damppebbles Blog Tours
About the author
Nathalie Abi-Ezzi was born in Beirut, and has lived in Lebanon, Austria and the UK.
It was while working on her Ph.D in English Literature at King’s College London that she realized that she wanted to write her own novels rather than just analyse other people’s. So, while working variously as an editor, teacher and tutor, she wrote and published several prize-winning short stories and her first novel, A Girl Made of Dust (4th Estate, 2008), which was short-listed for the Desmond Elliot Prize and the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award, and was the winner of the LiBeraturpreis in 2011.
She has, for better or worse, always been given to utterly pointless yet entirely joyful activities like playing music, drawing, painting, reading, and going on long walks. She has a particular interest in animal welfare, and has volunteered at shelters and rescue centres for many years. She always has a rescue dog by her side while writing, which is perhaps why animals invariably find their way into her work …