On Monday, May 2nd we held a discussion of the Year of the Revolutionary New Bread-Making Machine by Hassan Daoud, translated by Randa Jarrar. A poignant, wry portrait of a 1960s Beirut as it burgeons into the future, the book rests around a bakery which acquires a new bread-making machine, changing the lives and directions of those working and living around it. A Beirut journalist, Daoud’s writing is elegant, laconic and often very funny.
About the book (from the publisher’s blurb):
In bustling 1960s Beirut Ali spends his days sitting in the sun outside his father & uncle’s traditional bakery, chatting with customers, admiring the female customers, observing the many colorful characters, and listening in on conversations about everything from jaundice to the occult. The rest of the time Ali is off with his friends, learning to smoke and spying on women. For the men working inside the bakery life is starkly different. Working endless shifts in the furious heat of the old bread oven, they fantasize about escape. Mohammed sings all day long in his beautiful tenor voice, while the others lean exhausted on sacks of flour and dream of becoming wrestlers. When the bakery acquires a revolutionary new bread-making machine, the workers struggle to adapt to the new conditions, and one by one their dreams fade into oblivion.
About the author:
Hassan Daoud was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1950. After studying Arabic Literature he worked in Beirut as a journalist during the civil war. From 1979 to 1988 he worked as a writer for the daily paper ‘Alsafir Daily’. After that, he was a correspondent for eleven years for the international Arab newspaper ‘Al-Hayat’ which is published in London. Daoud wrote about social themes as well as book reviews, art and cultural criticism for the feature pages. At present he is the chief editor of ‘Nawafez‘, the cultural supplement of the Beirut daily paper ‘Al-Mustaqbal Daily‘. His commentary on political and cultural events in the Arab world appears in European newspapers as well, for example in the ‘Neue Zürcher Zeitung’.
As writer, he has so far published two volumes of short stories and four novels. His first novel, ‘Binâyat Mathilde’ (1983; Eng. ‘The House of Mathilde’, 1999), takes place in a Beirut apartment building during the civil war. At the centre of this social microcosm of Muslim and Christian tenants stands Mathilde, who has offered shelter to a nameless refugee in hiding. Daoud, who himself grew up in a house in which Muslims, Druzes and Christians, as well as immigrants from Russia and Armenia, all lived together, makes strikingly apparent the background for the disturbance in Lebanese society through the changes in the daily lives of the tenants. In his later novels too, he limits events to a concretely defined space.
Daoud frequently tells stories from the perspective of people living on the margins of society. In so doing, he renounces to the greatest possible extent descriptions of local features. Instead, he pens precise observations and subtle details in a trimmed-down language divested of psychological meaning. In ‘Ayyâm zâ’ida’ (1990; t: Added Days), through the continuous monologue of an old man, in which the past and present, memories and dreams are blended into a flow of thought, he depicts the wilful struggle against a family which is indifferent towards him to the point of hostility, but also the futile battle against growing helplessness, physical decline and death. The protagonist of ‘Ghinâ’ al-bitrîq’ (1998; t: The Song of the Penguin), impaired by a physical abnormality, also lives distanced from his fellow men. He obsessively spies and eavesdrops on a young female neighbour. The novel was hailed as ‘The Best Book from Lebanon in 1998’. Hassan Daoud’s most recent novel, ‘Makiage khafif lihazihi Allailah'(t: A Mild Makeup for Tonight), appeared in 2003. Currently he lives in Beirut.
How to find a copy:
The Year of the Revolutionary New Bread-Making Machine was first published in Arabic in 1996 as Sanat al-automatic by Dar an -Nahar, Beirut (you can order it here). The English version was Published in 2007 by Telegram in London.