MEMOIR: "Jasmine and Fire: A Bittersweet Year in Beirut," by Salma Abdelnour
By EMILY WALZ, Star Tribune
Decades after Salma Abdelnour's family fled Lebanon in the midst of continued civil war, she decided to leave her New York life to return to Beirut, chasing dreams of home and a place where belonging is effortless.
Going deeper than the superficial stock stories ("Lebanon at war!"; "Beirut parties again"), Abdelnour merges evocative descriptions of place and historical context with meditations on the current state of affairs in Lebanon.
Scenes of Beirut abound, from ritzy beach clubs and designer bikinis to old seaside fishing districts and bombed-out buildings, remnants of the war. Readers can picture the waterfront Corniche, vendors selling fresh-squeezed orange juice out of wheelbarrows, the Mediterranean rolling in the background. Armed guards occasionally interrupt her walks past beautiful Ottoman-style homes, a reminder that peace is still fragile here.
Abdelnour's background as a food writer shines through in the attention devoted to Lebanese cuisine, page after page of decadent dishes on display at holiday feasts. Thankfully the book includes a collection of recipes, featuring eggplant and tahini, lamb and pine nuts, lemon and garlic.
In prose that at times reads like a diary, the book narrates the one-foot-in-each-world experience of many who have left one home behind for another. After a year of trying to decide where to set both feet, Abdelnour returns to New York, resolved to continue balancing her two worlds, symbolized by two cities: New York and Beirut.