As Beirut exploded with the bombs and violence of a ruthless civil war in the ’80s, a nine-year-old Salma Abdelnour and her family fled Lebanon to start a new life in the States. Ever since then—even as she built a thriving career as a food and travel writer in New York City—Salma has had a hunch that Beirut was still her home. She kept dreaming of moving back—and finally decided to do it.
But could she resume her life in Beirut, so many years after her family moved away? Could she, or anyone for that matter, ever really go home again?
Jasmine and Fire is Salma’s poignant and humorous journey of trying to resettle in Beirut and fumbling through the new realities of life in one of the world’s most complex, legendary, ever-vibrant, ever-troubled cities. What’s more, in a year of roiling changes around the Middle East and the rise of the Arab Spring, Salma found herself in the midst of the turmoil.
As she comes to grips with all the changes in her life—a love left behind in New York and new relationships blossoming in Beirut—Salma takes comfort in some of Lebanon’s enduring traditions, particularly its extraordinary food culture. Through the sights, sounds, and flavors of a city full of beauty, tragedy, despair, and hope, Salma slowly begins to reconnect with the place she’s longed for her entire life.
Freelance writer Abdelnour channels her addiction to food pilgrimages into this piquant mix of memoir, travelogue and culinary adventure. In 1981, at the height of the Lebanese civil war, Abdelnour s parents moved the family to Houston. Although born in the U.S., Abdelnour spent most of her first nine years in Beirut. In Houston and, later, at the University of California at Berkeley, she nursed an idealized image of Beirut, colored by her family s summer vacations to the city, as a place where she would no longer feel like a misfit and battle self-doubt. Then, in summer 2010, Abdelnour, now living in New York City, put a budding romance on hold to live for a year in the home her family had maintained in Beirut. Comparing and contrasting the sophisticated social scenes and bustling commerce in New York and Beirut, Abdelnour records the months spent there, frequently detouring into existential ponderings on the qualities that make a place feel comfortable. As she puts down roots and rediscovers her favorite traditional, Abdelnour analyzes Lebanon s ongoing political instability, the constant threat of war in the Middle East her stay coincided with political upheavals throughout the area the potential revival of the Arabic language, and jarring Western-style displays of wealth and gaiety masking religious tensions and escalating unemployment. In the end, she has written a multilayered portrait of a complex, chaotic, and contradictory city.