Alexandre Najjar: School of War (L'?cole de la guerre), 2006
Between 1975 and 1989, Beirut was a warzone; the ancient city that had been known as "the Monte Carlo of the Middle East" committed suicide in an ugly civil war between religious and political factions. Alexandre Najjar was born in 1967, grew up in the middle of it. School of War is his memoir, his Beirut, as seen through the eyes of first a young boy, then a young man, with no particular stakes in the war besides staying alive and trying to live.
It's a brief book, 106 pages of short stories, anecdotes, flashbacks and -forwards, all told in a matter-of-fact, almost causerie style that only serves to underline the horriffic situations it describes. And even so, the most powerful impact isn't in the descriptions of growing up in a war zone, racing across the Sniper's Bridge, watching experts defuse a bomb 30 metres away, trying to guess if a grenade is incoming or outgoing, getting gunned down in his own schoolbus, but in the description of everyday life during and after the war. There may be cease-fires, there may even be peace, but for someone who's grown up in a warzone, war never goes away. Violence will always be there, mundane, casual, arbitrary. The war, or the absense of war, inhabits everything, the language, the way people relate to each other, the way they think of themselves.
School Of War isn't a book you read if you want to know facts about the Lebanese war. The narrator was a child for much of it, he didn't understand what made it happen then, he can only look at himself and what the war made of him - not for better, not for worse, but simply how it formed him and those around him. As such, it's a pretty chilling read.Death isn't a figment of your imagination. It's a creature of flesh and blood that sometimes passes you by. You can feel its breath and hear its voice. During the war, I even shook its hand.