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Beirut’s Fragmented Histories: Zeina Abirached’s Graphic Memoirs As Personal and Urban Reconstructions

Authors: Andrea Modarres*, University of Washington Tacoma
Topics: Cultural Geography, Ethnic Geography, Middle East
Keywords: Graphic memoir, Beirut, civil war, fragmentation, memory
Session Type: Lightning Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Franco-Lebanese writer and artist Zeina Abirached utilizes the comic arts in her memoirs, A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return (2012) and I Remember Beirut (2014), to depict her memories of living in Beirut during part of its long civil war. Abirached’s use of visual fragmentation, juxtaposed with focused close-ups and the narrative representation of specific moments, emphasizes the influence of spatial realities on individual and communal identities. In this way, her graphic memoirs powerfully convey the physical disruptions and urban destruction associated with war. Through both texts, a Beirut that no longer exists except in memory is partly reconstituted.

In this presentation, I argue that Abirached’s blend of illustration and narrative snapshots privileges moments and memories, ensuring that readers literally witness the human costs of war in a way that a more straightforward linear narrative does not allow; furthermore, they highlight the power of such fragmentary histories in ethnic identity formation. In the process, Abirached’s books provide a nuanced representation of Lebanese and diasporic experiences, reconstructing a Beirut that was destroyed and erased by a civil war that finds echoes in modern conflicts. Her work joins other recent graphic narratives that speak to the experiences of many people whose pasts are constituted by necessity out of narrative and visual fragments, and powerfully represents the city and its inhabitants as part of a larger story about the urban and personal experiences of violence.

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