Thomas L. Friedman’s Beirut to Jerusalem graciously dons its readers with a comprehensive overview of the conflicts of the middle east with a focalization of Israel and Lebanon. From a first hand experience, Friedman deftly navigates the politics, religion, and local stories during a ten year time span (1979-1988). This time span covers much of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the civil war of Lebanon. Friedman spends his first five years living in Beirut, and the next five years living in Jerusalem.
He takes from these times a multitude of personal and local short stories to give a comprehensive overview of the life of a common man. From these stories he weaves a unique equilibrium of violence, nefariousness, and heart. Friedman manages to maintain the novels’ material equally pertaining to Beirut and Jerusalem in an attempt to show two sides of the story. Friedman’s favoritism for human life and disdain of senseless brutality, government, and corruption is what gives this novel its vibe. Thomas L.
Friedman’s Beirut to Jerusalem uses a opinionated historical biography to empathize with the atrocities of war, and its devastating effect upon constituents in the reachable manner of the average newspaper reader. Written in a style of a collection of Newspaper opinion pieces it is not hard to guess that Friedman was reporting for the New York Times during his middle east expedition. Each prose throughout the novel is hit flawlessly with the meticulous rhythm of a great conductor. He repetitively swings between his heavy political accounts and light memories.
The former accounts brim with big names like Arafat, and Al-Assad; these names give any dabbling dilettante as much a headache as they give the President of the United States. Further, the light memories live between the fact driven stories that thoroughly treat the atrocities of war; these stories are those that give the dry pieces life and make the detailed pages of the book breathe once again. Friedman begins his account of Beirut with a shocking flashback of watching a man be kidnapped. He describes it as… normal.
This event outlines the bizarre life that a normal man leads amidst such a civil war. From watching car bombs take loved ones, to hearing shelling when he tries to count sheep, the brutality never rests in this Dante’s inferno. A few resonating moments amongst the abyss include asking the change of the dollar price when a car bomb explodes and the fact that asking how are things refers to the fighting rather than weather. Friedman discusses psychologists determination that Beirut is one of the highest long term stress scenarios ever studied.
It seems to most psychologists, almost impossible, that people could live in such conditions. The author touches upon the mind bending techniques citizens put themselves through to get through the day. One Red Cross woman plays a game rationalizing odds of her death, another lays on the horn whenever she is caught in a traffic jam, and the rest ignore it unless the shooting is on their door steps. The scars of living continue to grow upon the people of Beirut. They grew upon Friedman too, it’s unclear if they ever faded.
Beirut’s complex violences stop for no one. Friedman details some of the atrocities of U. S. military involvement in a very dark light. His tone suggests that Beirut’s nefarious government brings all light down to its level or it destroys it. He recalls a haunting poem summarizing the U. S. troops mentality of their time “They sent us to Beirut/ To be targets that could not shoot. //Friends will dies into an early grave,// Was there any reason for what they gave? ” (211).
A military expedition meant to secure peace so quickly is turned upside down and detested to the level of a smiling suicide bomber. Hatred in Israel is no different. It is a nuanced and refined in its culture but the hate remains. Friedman works his readers through the discrimination the Arab-Israeli conflict brought upon innocent citizens. He describes the hatred the discrimination of the palestinians nurtures and the harrowing effect upon the good that could have grown. Hope and peace have a funny way in conflict areas such as this.
It grows from silly things like an egg bus or game of cards. Friedman’s stories all have one common effect. They result in the commonfolk finding escapes, ways to raise above the crazy, away from Hobbes’s dreadful predictions, and bond together to form simplicity in the chaos. This novel is perfect for an overview of the commonfolk, their lives their reactions, their hardships. However, in no way shape or form would this novel be compared to a typical history book. Its description of political events is one sided and colored too heavily by opinions.
He fails to recognize half of every political story and he ignores the economic policies found behind each political action (which is typically the main motivation). Despite living in two places Friedman fails to demonstrate two points of view on the same event. The vividity of the novel is perhaps its achilles heel. Half of the prose demonstrate raw pain, and the other half are devoid of emotion. By living through those awesome moments the author lost something of himself in those ten years. With each passing horrible event he quiets, soon the reader too finds himself becoming numb.
One must be very wary as his message becomes muddled! Thomas L. Friedman wrote this historical diary of his memories to preserve the importance of the real life rather than just the politics of it, yet his pain in his biography leave a profound effect that dulls the pain with each additional account of violence. This leaves the novel light, and superficial. Further, it leaves the readers with feeling they watched a 6 hour news broadcast, resulting in feeling that they can’t care anymore, like the Beirutis, the readers must protect themselves, drown out the pain, and move on