The Midis de la Poésie join the Boghossian Foundation for two evenings dedicated to poetry from the Arab world. The first literary evening honors Lebanon, with an encounter between two writers: Japanese poet and writer Ryoko Sekiguchi and Lebanese author Charif Majdalani, who writes in French. In a conversation led by Soraya Amrani, the two authors will discuss their recent works which explore with extreme sensitivity the catastrophic explosions that hit Beirut on the 4th of August 2020.
961 heures à Beyrouth (et 321 plats qui les accompagnent) (‘961 hours in Beirut (and the 321 accompanying meals)’) (P.O.L. 2021)
In Ce n’est pas un hasard (‘This is not a coincidence’) (P.O.L 2011), written in the aftermath of the catastrophic Fukushima nuclear disaster, Ryoko Sekiguchi tackles the question of ‘the day before disaster’. When she arrived in Beirut in 2018, she never could have imagined that the city would be threatened by eminent tragedy – the anti-corruption revolt in February 2020 and the terrible explosion in the Beirut port in August of the same year. Over the course of her one and a half month-long stay (961 hours, to be precise), she had planned to draw the portrait of the city through the gestures of the chefs and the kitchen stories shared by the people of Beirut. Her writing project was, in large part, disrupted. It was meant to be a luscious cookbook, filled with the joys of shared meals. And it was a powerful idea: in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, a stranger would have more opportunities to glimpse behind closed doors than a local inhabitant. Sekiguchi quickly understood, however, that the city she was exploring had become ‘the city before the explosion of the 4th of August 2020’. Her resulting book is divided into 321 micro-chapters, each of which, to a certain extent, echoes a recipe, a meal, or a flavour which, in the author’s eyes, represent a tradition, a myth, a transmission.
Beirut 2020: Diary of the collapse (Actes Sud 2020)
The book began to take shape at the beginning of the summer in 2020. In a Lebanon decimated by the economic crisis and inflation, and a Beirut exhausted by its attempts to stand up for a true democracy – all while the world was transfixed by the news of the coronavirus – Charif Majdalani began writing a diary. His intention was to testify to this terrible, confusing time; to confront his own experiences, reflections and emotions, and – hopefully – make his experience bearable through writing.
The author’s chronicle of suffocation and collapse, somehow balanced with paradoxical lightness, was struck on the 4th of August by the explosion of 2 750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate in the city’s port. His narrative then became a testimony of the cataclysm, exploring the details of daily life with extreme sensitivity. He paints the portrait of a city stunned by the violence of its own story, whose inhabitants stagger and then get back to their feet, the pawns of a destiny at once risky and cruel.
Cultural journalist Soraya Amrani has worked for Arte Belgium, La Première and Musiq’3, and now hosts cultural programmes on BX1 radio. As the head of the Charge du Rhinocéros from 2016 to 2020, she developed projects in the French Community of Belgium as well as in the Mediterranean region, particularly in Tunisian theater, and more broadly across the African continent (in the Congo, Burkina Faso, and Morocco).