In Leave to Remain: A Memoir, Abbas El-Zein tells his story of growing up in a middleclass family in civil-war Beirut, a city in the throes of self-destruction, yet obstinately clinging to its cosmopolitan past.
El-Zein traces the genesis of a contemporary Middle-Eastern identity – his own – under the influence of culture, religion, history and places far removed from where he grew up: Najaf and Baghdad, Paris, Palestine, London, Sydney and the American far west. With him we travel through a Middle-Eastern life, with an eye on the mundane and the everyday, as well as the cataclysmic events overshadowing them. Threaded throughout this evocative memoir is an awareness of the impact of war and history on individuals, families and countries, with dislocation running across generations.
Leave to Remain is a story of a troubled homeland, of many departures and less-than-happy returns – an autobiographical reflection on today’s Middle-East and its relationship with the West.