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Between Beirut and the Moon, the acclaimed debut novel of Lebanese novelist Naji Bakhti, has been shortlisted for the 2021 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize.
Published by Influx Press in August 2020, the story follows Adam, the teenage child of an interfaith Christian-Muslim couple, whose great extraterrestrial ambition is challenged by a city that is in “a perpetual cycle of upheaval and instability.”
“A joyous tale from a fresh new voice.”
As he grows up in post-civil-war Beirut, Adam, who dreams of becoming an astronaut, grapples with all the difficulties that come with being under such unruly circumstances, in a story that smoothly marries comedy with tragedy.
“This is a book that makes you laugh, then surprises you, then horrifies you, teaches you something, then makes you laugh again. Never before have we considered the logistics of going to the toilet while bombs are going off,” the judges of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, the UK’s first literary award for comic literature, said of Between Beirut and the Moon.
“This is a book we read and then immediately mailed copies to friends and family declaring READ THIS. READ IT NOW,” they added, with UK Comedian Daliso Chaponda, one of the judges, deeming it: “Like Gabriel Garcia Marquez but with gags.”
“I started writing a part of the novel, though I did not know it then, in London while I was doing my MA at the University of Westminster. It was my first time living outside of Beirut,” Naji Bakhti tells The961.
In addition to his Westminster degree, Bakhti holds a B.A. in English Literature from the American University of Beirut and a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from Lancaster University (UK).
During his time in London, he gained a new, outsider’s perspective of his country and its real place in the world.
“I had spent the first few months explaining to acquaintances where Lebanon was on a map and confirming that in fact ‘yes, it is Lebanese like the food.’ “
His course at the time was about “writing the city,” but since he did not know much about London, he decided to write about his own, and that’s when Between Beirut and the Moon began to form.
“A strikingly confident and mature voice; a voice of wise cracks digressions and occasional sadness.”
Jon McGregor, author of Reservoir 13
“I suppose I wanted to go back home, so I wrote about it instead. It wasn’t until seven or eight years later at Lancaster University that I managed to complete the first draft,” the author recalls.
Bakhti’s relationship with literature goes back to childhood. Growing up in Ras Beirut, his parents always encouraged him to read, and they did so by setting an example.
“It was never anything so dramatic as the protagonist of BBATM being smacked on the back of the head with a book or two. It was little more subtle than that.”
The friendship of Bakhti’s parents with books proved greatly helpful to him when he decided to pursue creative writing as a career path.
“… I was fortunate in that my parents supported the decision and did not question my financial prospects nor my soundness of mind. The old joke about being a ‘doctor, lawyer, engineer or a disappointment’ did not seem to apply in this case.”