Thursday, 24 June 2010

Sabra Zoo

by Mischa Hiller

Beirut, Summer 1982. We all know what is going to happen in Sabra and Shatila. Ivan, the teenage protagonist and narrator of Sabra Zoo, does not. So he is “simply” doing his jobs, of varying dangerousness, all the while trying to lose his virginity.

As is the case with so many things I read and watch, I first learned about this book from The Big Issue. And the novel did not disappoint. It has everything: love, suspense, tragedy, hope and some very English humour, all masterfully combined and developed in space of just over two hundred pages.

‘Ivan? It is you, isn’t it?’ It was my English teacher, Mr Brampton, who had been teaching us right up until the first air raids this summer. He used to board at the school.
‘Is the school still standing?’ I asked. Thinking of its position on the south side of the city I imagined it must have been in the front line at some point.

‘It’s still there, but the Jew boys took it over and crapped in the new chemistry lab and headmaster’s office. Shocking behaviour. I’d write to The Times about it if it would do any good.’ He shook his head and I watched his jowls move. ‘I couldn’t believe that professional soldiers could behave that way.’ He pursed his lips as if this was the worst outrage of the whole war. As if bombing and shelling civilians was all right but shitting in a school tipped the balance of unacceptable behaviour.

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