Darina Al-Joundi with Mohamed Kacimi
Translated from the French by Marjolijn De Jager
Publication Date: March 2011
Source: Personal Library
My philosophy of life was very simple. I was convinced that I was going to die at any moment, so, hungry for everything, for sex, drugs, and alcohol, I doubled my efforts. I always had a bottle of whiskey in my bag, a pack of cigarettes, and a candle that I would light on the sidewalk on the corner of Makhoul Street where I would spend hours by myself. I wanted to take a sexual revenge. I made love like a madwoman, with anyone anywhere. Although I felt nothing I’d do it under porches, on the gravestones of the orthodox cemetery, on the beach, in showers, in cars, and especially in the bathrooms of bars. With a brutality that left no room for desire and even less for any feeling.
As a child, Darina Al-Joundi was raised by a very liberal father and a mother who’s strong and caring but who also stays in the shadow of her husband. As a result of her father’s influence, mother’s silence, and the ongoing civil war in the country, Darina grows up trying to rebel against all the horrors she witnesses: murders, starvation, and bombings. She rebels but with mixed results: three marriages by her mid-twenties, a bad reputation in her city, but the knowledge that she is more than her surroundings.
When I first started reading this book I thought it was really disjointed. One minute the author would talk about Beirut, the next a prank that she pulled on her grandmother which resulted in her first spanking. But as I kept reading I realized that the structure of the book is intentional. The first thirty years of Darina Al-Joundi’s life was chaotic. Her father was a man who thought that religion was the root of all evil and taught the author and her two sisters to never join a religion. He would rather they do anything else but that. He was raising his children in an extreme way: there was no discipline, the girls’ first cigarettes and glasses of liquor came from him, and their mother had almost no say. Al-Joundi was wild from the start and became a woman who tested her limits all the time.
The reader doesn’t have to know anything about Lebanon to follow the story – the author fills in the blanks about the years of war that ravaged the country and damaged its inhabitants,
It felt strange to walk the city streets without the militia shouting and the noise of bullets. It would take just a few days for the city’s [Beirut] features to be completely transformed. Everyone was so eager to turn the page, to forget the 150 thousand who had died for nothing. The snipers, the gunmen, the assassins melted away into the crowd in no time. An army of assassins vanished into thin air with a wave of the magic wand called amnesia. . . Everyone had turned the page very fast, without reading it. The Lebanese disposed of their war history like a dead body.
The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing is a memoir that shocks while also making the reader nod in agreement about Al-Joundi’s journey. You could call this memoir a war story but it’s so much more than that. It’s also the coming-of-age tale of a woman who refuses to be anyone but herself.