Water on Fire: A Memoir of War (Paperback)

Water on Fire: A Memoir of War By Tarek El-Ariss Cover Image

Water on Fire: A Memoir of War (Paperback)


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In this evocative, insightful memoir, a leading voice in Middle Eastern Studies revisits his childhood in war-torn Lebanon and his family’s fascinating history, coming to terms with trauma and desire.

Water on Fire tells a story of immigration that starts in a Beirut devastated by the Lebanese Civil War (1975–90), continues with experiences of displacement in Europe and Africa, moves to northeastern American towns battered by lake-effect snow and economic woes, and ends in New York City on 9/11. A story of loss, but also of evolution, it models a kind of resilience inflected with humor, daring, and irreverence.

Alternating between his perspective as a child and as an adult, Tarek El-Ariss explores how we live with trauma, poignantly illustrating the profound impact of war on our perception of the world, our fears and longings. His memoir is at once historical and universal, intellectual and introspective, the outcome of a long and painful process of excavation that reveals internal turmoil and the predicament of conflict and separation. A contemporary “interpretation of dreams” dealing with monsters, invisible creatures, skin outbreaks, and the sea, it is a book about objects and elements, like water and fire, and about how encountering these elements triggers associations, connecting present and past, time and space.
Tarek El-Ariss is the James Wright Professor and Chair of Middle Eastern Studies at Dartmouth College and was a Guggenheim Fellow (2021–22). Trained in philosophy, comparative literature, and visual and cultural studies at the American University of Beirut, the University of Rochester, and Cornell University, he is the author of Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Affects and the New Political and Leaks, Hacks, and Scandals: Arab Culture in the Digital Age, and editor of the MLA anthology The Arab Renaissance: A Bilingual Anthology of the Nahda.

Product Details ISBN: 9781635424461
ISBN-10: 1635424461
Publisher: Other Press
Publication Date: April 23rd, 2024
Pages: 272
Language: English
“Full of heart and resilience, Water on Fire is a must-read memoir.” —Book Riot, The Best New Nonfiction Books to Read This Month

“Poignant, thought-provoking…The author’s prose is beautifully evocative.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Deeply moving…An important, stirring memoir that effectively documents how the Lebanese Civil War impacted a child who grew up there during that time.” —Library Journal

“How do we live with war or recover from war? And what if there is more than one war, or even a lifetime of war? There’s an erudition that almost hides itself in this dazzling memoir as El-Ariss takes on these questions, and the result is an adventure among the myths that rule us, an education in Freud, and a dive into the idea of what it could mean to be traumatized and to heal. Deeply moving, funny, erudite, each page is honed to a careful edge—not an extra word. I was dazzled.” —Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel

“In this beautifully written book, Tarek El-Ariss takes his readers on a journey of discovery of one’s identity, commitment to humanity, and sorrows and ambitions, drawing a vivid picture of life at war from Beirut to New York. A must-read book!” —Alaa Al Aswany, author of The Yacoubian Building

Water on Fire is not a common story of war, loss, displacement, and identity crises, as much as it is a way to trace their inheritance. Tarek El-Ariss tells us that ‘cutting’ and ‘storytelling’ are the same word in Arabic (qass), and discovers that the impossibility of mourning cannot be reconciled through mere descriptive remembering of events. Rather, this reconciliation demands recalling images and fictional characters from scattered books, where literature can make reality of geography, disorder, and vulnerability.” Iman Mersal, author of The Threshold: Poems

“A beautiful and very moving book.” —Abdellah Taïa, author of A Country for Dying

“I can see this little boy carrying water containers home, or swimming at the beautiful beach in Beirut. Playing in shorts or carrying his bag on the way to school. As I read his story, I can’t help but wish for him to escape the bombs. Not only because I know this war, and this city, but also because I deeply understand how alone he feels under an abandoned sky. As an adult, Tarek El-Ariss will weave from his trauma, from this water and this fire, the words that tie in the solitude of a stranger in awe of reason with the joy of knowledge and discovery.” —Hoda Barakat, author of Voices of the Lost