A glimpse inside the world of Marina Chamma
Photo: Bernard Khalil
Marina Chamma is an economist, political scientist and writer. In 2011, she launched her blog "Eye on the East", a blog on history, politics, society and culture in Lebanon and the Arab world. Her collection of short stories, "And So We Drive On", if only by its title and its cover, illustrates the fate of the Lebanese - or their rejection of this fate, and their strong capacity for adaptation. What this collection tells, through the ten Beirut short stories, is that life goes on.
1- What’s behind the title of your new book "And So We Drive On"?
Cars, although they aren't hiding at all! There's one on the cover and by pure coincidence, a car plays an important role or is featured in most of the stories in the collection. But what really lies behind the title is a reminder of the strength of the human spirit and its constant determination to live on no matter how difficult life gets. We're destined to "drive on"...
2- If you had to summarize your book in two sentences?
A collection of stories inspired by Beirut that anyone can relate to. In this big wide world, we are all pretty much the same and the stories of some, are ultimately the stories of all.
3- Why did you opt for a collection of short stories?
I had so many ideas in my mind. I couldn't settle on one idea, so I decided to write about them all. I really enjoy short stories and believe it's an underrated genre. Publishers don't seem to be big fans, but readers have been enjoying them beyond my expectations.
4- Is publishing a book during this unbelievable timing, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, an act of resistance?
Yes. But it's also an act of defiance towards the city that inspired the book. Publishing at a time of the pandemic and our own economic, political and social collapse, not to even mention August 4 (which happened barely 8 days after the book was published) was my little act of resistance and defiance. Lebanon will remain an eternal source of inspiration, but it is also a destructive force in its people’s lives, destroying their hopes, dreams and ambitions. My act of defiance was in refusing to have it destroy yet another of my dreams of publishing my first book.
5- Your writing rituals?
Whether the writing flows or it's just a couple of paragraphs a day, the writing almost always happens at night. It's quiet, there are no distractions and nothing to rush to afterwards.
6- You grew up all over the world. Which city do you dream of the most?
There's a bit of every city in my heart and mind. From Detroit to Ottawa, Santiago, Rio de Janeiro, London to Tokyo and of course Beirut, each inspires me in its own way.
7- The main trait of your character?
Can I ask someone else to answer this question? One thing I know is that I'm passionate about my writing and there's nothing more beautiful and powerful than to be passionate about something in life.
8- The book accompanying you?
At the moment, I'm finishing up Mario Vargas Llosa's "El Paraiso en La Otra Esquina." Next on my list is Toshikazu Kawaguchi's "Before the Coffee Gets Cold," Isabel Allende's "Largo Petalo del Mar" and "Mas Alla del Invierno," and a couple of books that should start the research for my next book.
9- Your favorite TV series?
With Netflix, I have a preferred series every week! A good series is one that gets me hooked and immersed, whereby I completely disconnect from everything, if only for one hour, regardless of the genre. La Casa de Papel was fun to watch. I'm currently watching "The Queen's Gambit." I think "The Crown" is next.
10- A phenomenon triggering an impression of reminiscence?
Food is something that I attach a lot of memories to, especially if it originates in a country I've lived in. When I lived abroad, zaatar was always something that reminded me of Lebanon and family. The more I think about it, the more I'll come up with things. I'm glad this is the last question, otherwise, I would have never finished the interview!