In this finely observed novel, five young Lebanese women navigate their professional and social lives in a city interrupted by random explosions. It is not a war zone, but there is no peace either; Beirut stands at the edge of both. These women, much like their country, have been shaped by the events of a long civil war, their childhood spent in shelters, their adolescence in an unrecognizable city under rapid reconstruction. And here they are now, negotiating the details of their adult lives, fighting to protect their identities, voices, and relationships in a society constantly under questioning.
Talk of politics and gossip by the young and old animate the coffee shops. Heated debates and power dynamics unfold in bars and on the streets. Mandour’s funny and defiant style invites an intimacy, giving readers a glimpse into the absurdities and injustices of everyday life in Lebanon. With empathy and a deep honesty, Mandour narrates the lives of these women who struggle to create their own destiny while at the same time coming to terms with the identity of their Mediterranean city.
"Sahar Mandour conjures modern Beirut in all its frustrating and glorious complexity in this tale of five young women seeking to carve out their place in it."
World Literature Today
"32 is a fascinating page-turner; universal in its coming of age anxieties and everyday activities of a young woman and her friends, and yet specific to post-war Beirut in context, ambiance and sensitivity."
author of What Kind of Liberation? Women and the Occupation of Iraq
"Sahar Mandour is the voice of Beirut. She captures its wistful contradictions. 32 is a Beiruti novel. Such joy, such sorrow, but more than anything, such wonderful characters."
author of The Karma of Brown Folk
"32 and its characters show us that a sense of struggle for a better tomorrow defines life in Beirut."
I felt like a child, said goodbye, and each of us went her way. Pain choked my heart then too. It choked it harder that time, but I knew why. Nadia had a story, and I knew it, and I’m going to tell it.
She loves him. She adores her husband. She wants him to be comfortable and never blames him for anything. She blames the government and bad luck and the world and exhaustion, and bar owners at times and restaurant staffs other times, and she blames the Cuban blockade, and releases Lebanon from its responsibilities. She blames the situation, the past, the present, the future, and war. She always finds someone or something to blame but him. And he, he loves to be kept out of blame. For he’s her Cuban husband with whom she spent years of happiness in Havana.
Excerpt published in Jadaliyya
Her fiancé, Qrunful, died a martyr.
Hayat says he’s not a martyr. She insists that he was a victim and refuses to call him anything else. “He didn’t choose to die,” she says. And politics meant nothing to him. “He loved me, and that’s it. He’s not a martyr, he was my fiancé, and he is a victim.” That’s what she yelled on the third day of grieving when a visiting official arrived and proclaimed Qrunful a martyr in front of her and her family. That day everyone treated her like she had a breakdown. Only Qrunful’s mother stood up for Hayat and asked everyone to leave her alone and to stop telling her to go rest in the bedroom. Only Qrunful’s mother stood by her side and asked the visiting official, forcefully but politely, to kindly and quietly get out.
So, Qrunful left this world a victim of a car bomb that targeted a Lebanese minister of Parliament.
And Hayat left for Paris.
That was three years ago.
Excerpt published in World Literature Today