– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –
Today I’m on the ‘Paper Sparrows’ blogtour, organised by Damppebbles Blog Tour.
To promote this book I have a guest post, but b
About the Author :
Nathalie Abi-Ezzi was born in Beirut, and has lived in Lebanon, Austria and the UK.
It was while working on her Ph.D in English Literature at King’s College London that she realized that she wanted to write her own novels rather than just analyse other people’s. So, while working variously as an editor, teacher and tutor, she wrote and published several prize-winning short stories and her first novel, A Girl Made of Dust (4th Estate, 2008), which was short-listed for the Desmond Elliot Prize and the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award, and was the winner of the LiBeraturpreis in 2011.
She has, for better or worse, always been given to utterly pointless yet entirely joyful activities like playing music, drawing, painting, reading, and going on long walks. She has a particular interest in animal welfare, and has volunteered at shelters and rescue centres for many years. She always has a rescue dog by her side while writing, which is perhaps why animals invariably find their way into her work …
It is the summer of 2006, and nineteen-year-old London music student, Layla, returns home for the holidays to a now peaceful Lebanon. When she arrives, though, she finds that her troubled younger brother has gone missing. “Borrowing” her father’s car, she heads to Beirut to search for him, meeting a variety of people along the way. But her quest is cut short when, without warning, Beirut comes under heavy artillery fire. A new war has begun, and now she is trapped in the middle of it.
Published in paperback and digital format by Holland House Books on 5th March 2020.
Guest Post :
War and Music
At the age of about seven or eight, I attended a performance by Humphrey Lyttelton and his band in my home town. The noteworthy part is that the small town was in Lebanon, and this was the middle of the civil war. I had heard nothing like that music before, and nor, to judge by the audience’s discomfort, had they. When Humph took out what looked like the rubber end of a kitchen plunger and clamped it onto the end of his trumpet, I didn’t know whether to laugh or be embarrassed. Either way, the experience left a deep impression on me, not least because this man should have bothered to leave the safety of his home country and come to my war-torn one, and to a small town nobody had heard of, to play his music for us.
In the days of face-to-face warfare, military bands would lead the soldiers onto the battlefield and the music they played would (in theory anyway) inspire patriotic feeling and courage for the fight ahead. With the widespread ownership of radios during WWII, music became a propaganda tool, blaring out in camps, factories and hospitals, providing a morale boost for those who were away and comfort to those waiting at home.
Perhaps more than any other art-form, music is a token of people’s need to rise above the violence of their everyday lives at such times. Shostakovich worked feverishly to complete his seventh symphony, which was performed by a starving orchestra dressed in suits and bow ties. St. Petersburg, then Leningrad, had been under siege for nearly a year, and the musicians were weak with hunger, but the concert received an hour-long ovation. Some fifty years later, during the siege of another city, the “cellist of Sarajevo”, Vedran Smailovic, took his stool and cello to a small square where twenty-two people had been killed while waiting to buy bread. Disregarding the shelling and sniper fire, he sat and played Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor, and did so every day for twenty-two days.
In Paper Sparrows, my second novel, Layla is a London music undergrad who goes back home to Lebanon for the summer break. Her mother plays the piano but never had the opportunity to pursue or develop her talent. Layla does have that opportunity, but when she arrives home and finds that her younger brother is missing, she abandons everything to go and find him. On her journey, she meets another student, Joe, and that first evening, in a university hall in Beirut, she sits down at a small, rickety plastic keyboard to play.
‘The Royal College, with its twenty-six practice rooms, and another twenty-two sound-proof practice rooms, a sum total of one hundred and fifty-six pianos, has vanished like a stone into water. She looks up at the window, through which she can see part of an awning, branches of pine tree, a piece of evening sky. So, five octaves instead of seven. That means almost nothing after Mozart. She needs something compact and precise, a Baroque cut jewel.’ It’s far from ideal, but when she starts to play, ‘everything else, including herself, ceases to exist. It is no longer her brain that generates sound, but little engines in her fingers, tiny brains that already know the shape of the music. She does not have to think, and there is a feeling in her mind like light.’
But that night, the so-called ‘July War’ of 2006 breaks out. Beirut comes under heavy aerial bombardment, and music takes on a new meaning.
Years later, I heard Humphrey Lyttelton play again in London. By then I was a jazz lover, and the experience was wonderful. Yet the evening imprinted more clearly on my memory is the one where I sat in the darkness of my local childhood cinema and listened to sounds that carried.
The Magic of Wor(l)ds