issue 41: March - April 2004 

 | author bio

The New Beirut
by Gretchen McCullough

Eighteen years ago, I met the Reverend Benjamin Weir, an American Presbyterian missionary who was taken hostage in Lebanon in 1984 by Islamic Jihad, which was part of the Shi'ite group, Hezbollah, Party of God. He probably doesn’t remember me. I was one of many people he met that year after his release in September 1985. I was a teacher for the Presbyterian Church at the Ramses College for Girls in Cairo, my first foray into the world after graduation. It wasn't exactly the job my parents had in mind, but I learned a great deal.
      Teaching at the girls' school was martyrdom, but not a particularly sublime one. And I was being roasted alive by naughty, adolescent Egyptian girls, who nibbled pumpkin seeds, chatted at a mild roar and burst into belly dancing the moment you turned your back. Teaching in Cairo was much more difficult than I had expected and I was depressed. The other endurance test had been living with nine volunteer teachers, who were also in their twenties, in a drab, monastic flat on the grounds of the school; it was much like a slumber party gone sour. Who was hogging our precious hand-cranked washing machine? Would Sally make fava beans again for supper? Who was gossiping to the group about an Egyptian boyfriend?
      Ben Weir lifted us briefly out of this petty infighting into something more profound. He told us what it was like to be held hostage for a year and a half. And it was much, much worse than being held captive at the girls' school. He described how he used the chain that manacled his leg to a radiator, as a rosary. Each of the thirty-three links reminded him of God's gifts: health, life, food, a mattress, pillow, blanket, faith, hope, Jesus, his wife, Carol, his children, dear friends.
      Did I ever thank God for the many blessings of my life?
      When he was first captured, he realized that the one resource that his captors could not take away was his faith and his memory. He remembered scraps of hymns and sang them to himself: "All praise to thee, my God this night…" and "Abide with me: fast falls the eventide." But he also quickly realized how important it was to keep track of time, since he had no way of recording his thoughts. He used pock marks on the wall to mark days.
      His spiritual fortitude inspired awe. I resented having to go to the Protestant chapel downtown on Sundays. We were strongly urged to drop by the missionaries. On my day off, I far preferred to sneak off with an Egyptian male friend and have the rare, savory hamburger at the Nile Hilton, or sample other delights. Too much discomfort, too much bad food and too little privacy was making me sly and irreverent, not more pious.
      Ben Weir asked his captors for a Bible. He was given the New Testament in Arabic on his 35th day of captivity. When he was moved to another hiding place, the Bible got lost. Without the text, he recounted to himself the biblical passages that he remembered. Later in his captivity, an eclectic selection of books was offered: Animal Farm, The Plague, and On the Long March with Mao, which seems like an odd book to be lying around Hezbollah's headquarters, but Weir even managed to take the best from Communist propaganda. In Hostage Bound, Hostage Free, he observes: "Although the little book was written to glorify the Chinese leader, it portrayed not only the great suffering but also the solid determination of Chinese revolutionaries to build a new society. In the midst of it all there was the human will to survive the long march, the terrible winters, sickness, and displacement." From The Plague, he returned to the "thought-provoking question of how to deal with human suffering." It reminded him of his own situation, and of the great suffering of the Lebanese people during the Civil War. He goes on to say that God is present with us even in extreme circumstances.
      Before he was kidnapped, he had tried to console the relatives of others who had been kidnapped or who had lost loved ones in Lebanon. At the moment he was being kidnapped, he thought: "Now it's happening to me. It's not a story in the paper, it's for real."
      In our world at the Ramses College for Girls, we had not encountered disappearances or violent death, but there was plenty of malice, jealousy and intrigue. Few of us were reading the Bible. Every single junk book available could be found in the library at the flat: John Jakes, Danielle Steele, Jean Auel. There were two copies of a fat, well-thumbed bestseller called Clan of the Cave Bear that I never got around to reading. What was I reading? I remember stuffing Dostoyesky's The Idiot and Chekhov's short stories into my heavy suitcase, along with plastic eggs of panty hose, long, loose skirts and high heels.
      Weir had been taken hostage by a radical wing of the group, Hezbollah, which had strong ties to the Shia in Iran. The Lebanese Shia were inspired by the language of martyrdom of the Iranian Revolution. They were also being supplied with arms by the Iranians.
      His Lebanese captors told Weir: "We have nothing against you personally. We are asking for the release of the Shi'ite prisoners from Kuwait."
      The Shi'ite prisoners in Kuwait were being held for the bombing of the French and American embassies in Beirut, December 1983.
      His captors didn't believe him when he told them he didn't work for the embassy. He was not CIA. He was working with the Lebanese Protestant church and teaching at the ecumenical seminary, the Near East School of Theology. They didn't know the difference between a pastor and a priest. They did not know the difference between Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Protestants. Even though Weir was well versed in Islam and fluent in Arabic, he was treated to lengthy monologues about the basics of the religion.
      Here's what his captors did know: Lebanese Shia had suffered greatly during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which the US had supported. Cluster bombs, vacuum bombs and malicious weapons with USA printed on them had hit Beirut. They maimed and killed innocent civilians. Even though the US was supposed to be a "peacekeeping force," they could fire on Shiite and Druze. The US supported the Marionite Christian Phalangist administration of the Gemayels, who were the enemy of the Shia.
      Carol Weir told embassy officials: "The kidnapping of Americans is a response to our foreign policy." They shrugged off her comment.
      The US government's response to the hostage situation in Lebanon was sluggish. After many months of frustrating encounters with embassy officials, Carol Weir, with the support of family and friends and the Presbyterian Church USA launched a national campaign in the United States for the release of her husband. The families of other hostages like Terry Anderson and Donald Sutherland also launched similar campaigns.
      I do not think Ben Weir described the terms of his release in his talk that day at Ramses College. Much later, I read about the "arms for hostages deal," engineered by William Casey, Robert McFarlane, Oliver North and others in the Reagan administration. The story has all the elements of a James Bond plot, and makes one understand why Ben Weir's Lebanese captors might not have believed him. The Reagan administration had negotiated with the Khomeini regime, something they claimed they would never do. The Iranians wanted arms for their war with Iraq; in exchange the Iranians would pressure the Lebanese Hezbollah to release the hostages. (Weir was the first one released.) Bizarrely, the Israelis delivered the arms. Next, North funneled the cash from the illegal arms sale to fund the Contras in Nicaragua.
      Ironically, a man of good will and peace was traded for arms.
      In the Weirs' book, there is a copy of the letter that Reagan sent to Weir, denying the arms for hostages deal: "I was saddened to learn from press reports that you may have accepted at face value speculative stories in the media alleging arms for hostages. Let me assure you that no ransom was paid for your release. The long-standing policy of our government has been not to make concessions to the demands of terrorists."
      At the time, no one might have guessed that George W. Bush's administration would be guilty of even greater moral hypocrisy, and invoke the word "terror" even more often. A WAR ON TERROR would be presented as PEACE.


Maybe even stranger than hearing about the violent world of Lebanon in 1985, though, was learning about the cruelty of chance in Cairo.
      A day after Ben Weir gave his talk to us, his daughter, Ann, and Kathy, the daughter of the Lorimers, other Presbyterian missionaries in Cairo, got on the bus to return to Alexandria, where they were working at the Schutz School. They never arrived.
      After rereading the Weirs' book, I noticed that the accident happened near Christmastime. Ann had given her parents their Christmas presents before she had gotten on the bus. How odd that I didn't remember it was near Christmas, a poignant detail. Memory could be vague, but also latch onto the particular. What I remember is this: Mary Lou Lorimer talking about the knitting basket that her daughter, Kathy, was carrying with her on the bus. What had Kathy been knitting? Socks? A sweater? Presents for Christmas? Mary Lou wanted the basket, because it was the last thing her daughter had been making and it represented the process of creation.
      The knitting basket had disappeared. Had the Egyptians at the scene of the accident thrown away the knitting basket because it was soaked in blood? Or more likely, in the panic and confusion, had the basket gotten lost?
      In my father's law office in Harlingen, Texas, there is a small, black sign on the ledge of the reception with this simple message: Have You Made Your Will? The Presbyterian Church had required that I write a will, in the event that my corpse needed to be shipped out of the country. Could that happen to me?
      Attending the funerals of Ann Weir and Kathy Lorimer was a frightening experience. Ann was twenty-four; Kathy, I think, twenty-seven. I was twenty-five. The two coffins sat in the front at the Evangelical Church in Heliopolis. There were many baskets of gladioluses. One could only guess about the suffering of their parents.
      Tragedies were not only political. And they did not only happen in Lebanon.
      In Hostage Bound, Hostage Free, Carol Weir reflects: "When Ben was kidnapped, I learned that the life of faith does not protect us from situations where we feel helplessness, loneliness, and the pain of suffering."


In 1985, I didn't expect I would ever visit Beirut.
      I visited the city for a day from Lattakia, Syria, where I was living in 1999-- a two-and-a half or three hour taxi ride from Lattakia. For such a simple day trip, it took us 10 days of visits to emigration and other offices in Syria. (We had to arrange for permission to leave and re-enter the country.) After the dreary atmosphere of Syria, Karim, my boyfriend, and I felt buoyant, seeing Beirut in the distance. High-rises rose up all along the coast. The signs in English seemed to say: "Welcome to the Emerald City." We visited the American University in Beirut, which is perched on a bluff, a marked contrast to the Soviet-style campus of Tishreen University where I was teaching. The AUB campus had lush, green grass with oak trees. I peered over the edge of the bluff. Tennis courts below, the sea beyond.
      After I returned to Syria, I sent the English Department at AUB my resume by fax, but they did not respond and getting in touch by phone was difficult. At the time, there was little internet access in Syria.
      Instead, I had gotten a job the following year at the American University in Cairo. After the experience at the Ramses College, I had sworn off Cairo. I was never, ever coming back, and yet here I was.
      I have not seen the Weirs again. But I have seen the Lorimers twice, when they returned to visit Cairo. We met at Roy's Country Kitchen in the Marriott, another incarnation of the original Roy Rogers' Restaurant. In the nineteen-eighties, the Egyptian waiters were dressed as Texans in cowboy hats. Now they wore only long aprons.
      The Lorimers mentioned their daughter, Kathy. Yes, I remembered.
      Joyce, one of the volunteers in her fifties had knocked on my door that morning and told me: "Something terrible has happened." She had been up all night. Ann and Kathy were the only ones killed on the bus. It had been hit by a train. All the other passengers had survived.
      But I did not blurt out these thoughts, as I probably would have done in my twenties. Instead, I asked the Lorimers about the health of other missionaries who had lived in Cairo in the nineteen-eighties. I asked about their other daughter, Sue. They do not have grandchildren. But they are in good health and hopeful, close to eighty. They can still travel. Jack is writing a book about the history of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt.


The second time I visited Beirut was last fall, during the Eid El-Fitr holiday after Ramadan. The airport is new and feels a little like the airport in Burlington, Vermont. Smallish and orderly--how unlike the wild, carnival atmosphere that you encounter the moment you land in Cairo. No shouting or wild waving of arms. No men in gallebeas and turbans, carrying suitcases on their shoulders.
      My friend, Lori, was ahead of me in line. When I looked up, she was being led off to another office. I sailed through and picked up the bags.
      She must have had an Israeli stamp in her passport. Would I be spending the holiday alone in Beirut?
      Syrians would not allow you to enter their country if you had an Israeli stamp in your passport.
      But the Lebanese customs overlooked the Jerusalem stamp.
      "I told them the only way to get to the West Bank and Gaza was to go through Jerusalem. They know that's true. Our agency is providing relief for the Palestinians."
      Lebanese customs did not stamp Lori's passport; instead, they gave her a slip. They did not want to annoy the Syrians. However, refusing tourists entry to Lebanon because they had an Israeli stamp in their passports was also not good for business.
      Later that afternoon, Lori and I wandered into an optician's shop in Hamra after we had settled in at the Meridien, the old Commodore hotel.
      True to their reputation, the Lebanese are good salesmen.
      The optician was pleasant and helpful. He didn't push too hard. We tried on glasses for over an hour. He didn't insist. Yes, he could make the shape of the glasses smaller for Lori. Why not try these? What about sunglasses? Where were we from? Did we like Cairo?
      "What about the new Beirut? Are you satisfied with the government?" I asked .
      "If the Syrians want Lahoud and Hariri, we will have them," he said, with resignation.
      (Emile Lahoud is the President of Lebanon; Rafiq Hariri is the Prime Minister. In Lebanon. The President must be Maronite; the Prime Minister must be Sunni; the Speaker of the House must be Shia. The French had instituted this system to safeguard the Maronite Christians. The allocation of sects to offices did not reflect demographics.)
      Twenty-five thousand Syrian troops were occupying Lebanon as a peacekeeping force. But the Lebanese obviously had mixed feelings about the Syrian presence. The Syrians are the most recent of a long series of foreign armies in Lebanon in the last twenty years.
      In Pity the Nation, his book about Lebanon, Robert Fisk comments on the changing political landscape in Lebanon: "In 1982, when the Israeli army surrounded Beirut and the Palestinian guerrillas agreed to leave, I was down in those same front lines, invited by a Palestinian gunman to push the last sandbags from his position now that the final cease fire had been called. The end of the war. Then the Israelis entered west Beirut, their Lebanese militia colleagues massacred the Palestinians in Sabra and Chatila and European armies established themselves in Beirut. The end of the war. The Israelis retreated out of almost all of Lebanon. The end of the war. The Syrian army returned in February of 1987 to repress the anarchy of Lebanese militias. The end of the war."
      The optician switched the conversation from politics to money. Could we pay in dollars?
      Everyone preferred dollars in Lebanon. Bills were calculated in Lebanese pounds and American dollars.
      On our first day in Beirut, we strolled for kilometers along the corniche. We took the long way around to downtown because Lori was reading the map upside-down. I have a terrible sense of direction.
      The downtown area looked like San Francisco but also felt like a movie set. Attractive walkways and restaurants fanned out in each direction from the tower clock. The buildings were a creamy sand color. Any kind of restaurant your heart desired: pizza, Lebanese, Italian, pastries, ice cream. Shops with trendy-looking clothes. Boutiques for teeny-boppers. The man who served me ice cream at Haagen Das looked like a Mediterranean movie star. In the Virgin Bookstore, we heard familiar country-western music. Kenny Rogers? Books in French were piled on tables. All along the stairway were stacks of Hilary's autobiography, translated into Arabic.
      Outside, some soldiers in fatigues were scanning the area for bombs, with a detector and a dog.
      "Why? What's going on?" I asked.
      They shrugged. "Tomorrow is Lebanese Independence Day."
      The downtown was destroyed by the Civil War and has been rebuilt by the real estate company, Solidere. The reconstruction is controversial because of the conflicting interests of archaeologists and developers. In 1993, there was an agreement between CDR (Council of Development and Reconstruction), UNESCO and the Lebanese Department of Antiquities to excavate the area before rebuilding it. However, the role of the Lebanese Antiquities was minimized. At the end of 1993, there were no more funds for archaeological excavation. In 1994, Solidere, the real estate company owned by Rafiq Hariri, offered to fund the excavations so archaeologists found themselves in the position of having to ask a real estate company for money. Such an arrangement did not make for a happy marriage. Developers were interested in finishing reconstruction projects and making a profit; archaeologists were focused on preserving and studying cultural objects and sites. Even with these difficulties, international teams from UNESCO, along with Lebanese from American and Lebanese universities, discovered 100 new sites between 1994 and 1997. In her article "Ancient Beirut: Urban Growth in Light of Recent Excavations" Helen Sader notes: "…Solidere is selling parcels of land which will eventually be developed. Just who is going to excavate these large areas potentially brimming with archaeological finds remains a compelling question, and exactly who is going to pay for the archaeological operations remains uncertain." Solidere, which is supported by the Lebanese government, wants to develop areas of land for profit. The Lebanese Department of Antiquities does not have the money and power to stop reconstruction or fund excavations. If Solidere, the real estate company, funds the archaeological excavation, they will dictate the terms.
      Everything was closed the entire time we were in Beirut (Lebanese Independence Day and the Eid el-Fitr holiday) except for our one day at Baalbeck, the most important Roman site in the Middle East.
      First, we visited the Ksara winery in the Bekka Valley. In Syria, they sold Ksara wine bootleg; usually shopkeepers had the bottles in paper brown bags, underneath the counter. It was ten o'clock in the morning, but none of us was averse to wine tasting.
      As they poured different varieties of red and white wine for us, the guide said that the Ksara winery had been taken over by Jesuit priests in 1857. But in 1972, the winery was sold to private owners. In 1998 the Bekka Valley produced 4 million litres of juices from its grapes.
      We took a spin down one of the ancient tunnels to have a look at the rows of bottles. Our guides switched on the tape in English. They walked slowly in front in time with the tape, as if it were a wedding procession.
      By the time we reached Baalbeck, the sky had darkened and drops had begun to fall. (The Greeks and Romans called the city Heliopolis, The City of the Sun, and dedicated the main temple to Jupiter, who was linked to Baal, god of the sun.)
      We dutifully trooped behind our Lebanese guide, who showed us the grand Roman temples, which were as impressive as the ancient Egyptian temples along the Nile.
      Our guide was better prepared than we who had paid sixty bucks for the trip: she was wearing a snug hat, gloves, a muffler and a warm coat. She pointed us forward with her umbrella and began every explanation with "My friends…"
      The other tourists on our trip were expatriates from other Arab countries on R & R. There was a German couple in their fifties and their sulky fifteen-year-old son, who lived in Saudi; a Canadian couple, who couldn't stop smooching; and Lori and I, who were escaping Cairo.
      At Aanjar, the tall German in the light khakis was more interested in learning the price of our hotel room than learning about the site.
      "How much did you pay for your room?" he asked Lori.
      "Seventy-five a night. It's a businessman's rate. I got it off the internet," Lori said.
      Our guide interrupted, "So this, my friends, is Aanjar."
      "We are paying two hundred a night. And we are so far from the city. We have to get a taxi to go anywhere. Taxis are expensive," the tall German continued.
      The Canadian man had just given his sweater to his companion. He was trying to appear macho, but had begun to shiver. Lori nudged me, "Do you really think they're married?"
      Our guide rapped her umbrella on the ground. "My friends, Aanjar was built by the sixth Ummayad Caliph Walid I. You can see the influence of Hellenistic and Roman architecture here. The city flourished for fifty years, but Ummayads were defeated by the Abbasids."
      The city was laid out in a grid design, with columns. It looked like a Roman site, not an Islamic one.
      We were hugging ourselves to keep warm from the rain and wind, but our guide didn't notice. She popped open her umbrella.
      "This is an interesting site. Too bad I am so miserable I can't enjoy it," I said. Everyone laughed except our guide.
      She was the schoolteacher; we were the naughty kids on a school trip. She pointed the way forward. "This way, my friends, to the Palace of the Caliph."


 I bought Robert Fisk's book Pity the Nation at the Way In Bookshop, which is across from Starbucks in Hamra. There was hardly any noise, compared with Cairo. No beeping horns. Lori and I were so comfortable that we wished we could spend our whole vacation at Starbucks. Carrot cake and café latte and big, comfy chairs, just like home. But Fisk disabused me of the dream: Beirut seemed like a Western city, but was not.
      The tribalism of the place was staggering. The list of the players is as long as the cast of characters in War and Peace. There were Maronite Christians and Druzes (an offshoot of Islam) and Shia and Sunnis and Palestinians. Each group had its own militia with a chieftain and his family, who ruled like the Corleones.
      Here's a map for Beirut in 1982:
      The Maronite Christians were represented by the right-wing militia, the Phalangists. (The Chamouns and the Gemayel family.) Then there were the Druzes. (The Jumblatt family.) The Shia were represented by two militias, Hezbollah and Amal. (Hezbollah was supported by the Iranian Shia.) (Amal was ruled by Nabih Berri.) There was the PLO and Yasser Arafat, but also a number of splinter Palestinian groups. (The Palestinians withdrew in 1982.)
      The Phalangists hated the Palestinians. The Palestinians quarreled among themselves. The Druze hated the Phalangists more than the Israelis. The Phalangists were allied to the Israelis. The Palestinians sniped at the Syrians. The Shia and the Phalangists were enemies. The Syrians and the Israelis both wanted to control their neighbor, Lebanon. And they, too, loathed each other. The Syrians had encouraged Iranian involvement in Lebanon.
      Local tribalism in Lebanon had always been complicated by outside colonial interference. The French had favored the Maronite Christians, which caused resentment and tension with the Muslims. (The Reagan administration had made the same mistake by allying themselves with the Gemayels.) In 1982, when the Americans had persuaded the PLO to withdraw from Lebanon, they exacted a promise from the Israelis that they would protect Palestinian refugee camps. Instead, the Israelis had let the right-wing Phalangist group do their ethnic cleansing for them. In 1982, the Israelis, under the supervision of Ariel Sharon, watched while the Phalangists murdered innocent women, children and old men in the Sabra and Chatila camps. After the massacre, a multinational peacekeeping force of Americans, French and Italians returned to Beirut. (They had no UN mandate.) But the multinational peacekeeping force had not been able to keep the peace. Instead, they too were drawn into the maw of in-fighting.
      Reading Fisk's book was like watching a horror movie. He described the bodies he saw at Sabra and Chatila. He described maimed children, people on the verge of dying, car bombs, massacres and ruined buildings. He described what it was like to lose friends and colleagues to kidnappings and violent death.


When I returned to Cairo, I asked a Lebanese professor who taught at the American University in Cairo, "Was the Civil War really that bad?"
      "I used to swerve around corpses on the bridge near the Green Line, which separated Muslim and Christian Beirut. There wasn't fighting every day. Some days were normal," she said.
      Or was it that, for the Lebanese war had become normal?
      On the 23rd of October 1983, two suicide bombers from Islamic Jihad killed 241 American servicemen and 58 French paratroopers in Beirut. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility: their purpose was to drive "Western occupiers out of Lebanon." This radical Shia group saw the Reagan administration's alliance with the Maronite Phalangists and the Israelis as a betrayal. What struck me when I was reading Fisk's book about Lebanon is how much the American incursion into Lebanon is like the current one in Iraq. Americans were going to save the Lebanese from themselves; instead, they became ensnared in a complex net of tribal relationships that they didn't understand.
      Now young soldiers who are in their twenties, the same age or even younger than Ann Weir and Kathy Lorimer, are coming home from Iraq in body bags. Young men, not killed in car accidents but sacrificed for the grandiose ambitions of empire. One of my friends said, "Parents of soldiers in the US army should be marching on Washington."
      Fisk says that the young American soldiers in Lebanon had nicknamed Beirut, "The Root." The root of what? Violence? Ancient civilizations?
      But it wasn't just outsiders who were to blame for the tragedy in Lebanon. The Lebanese had settled scores among themselves. Clannishness had dangerous consequences.
      Samir Khalaf writes in his article "Contested Space and the Forging of New Cultural Identities" about the damage caused by the Civil War: "Even by the most moderate of estimates, the magnitude of such damage to human life and property is staggering. About 170,000 people have perished, twice as many were wounded or disabled; close to two thirds of the population experienced some form of dislocation or uprootedness from their homes and communities. By the fall of 1982, UN experts estimated that the country had sustained US $12 to 15 billion in damages; ie, $2 billion per year. Today, more than one third of the population is considered to be below the poverty line as a result of war and displacement."
      In Lebanon, the mountains are capped with snow, like Laban (milk). Yes, Beirut was beautiful--a city on the sea, with mountains in the distance. But being a tourist was like the first blush of a romance. I did not see the slums. I did not see the UN Palestinian camps. Our Lebanese guide pointed out some flimsy tents by the side of the road in Zahle: Syrian guest workers. A relief worker we met talked about the problems of migrant workers from Asia and the Philippines, who often ended up as slaves and prostitutes.
      Beirut, downtown and in Hamra, was shiny and attractive, an easy city to fall in love with. The Lebanese knew how to prepare and serve food. The bread and salads were fresh, the fish had the perfect pesto sauce and the wine was just right. The Lebanese we met were charming and friendly. And they had so much panache.
      Still, I was haunted by Fisk's description of the young American soldiers finding the skeletons that had washed up on the beach in 1982: "At Khalde, the Americans of the 32nd Marine Amphibious Unit found on the beaches that the rain separated sand from flesh, flesh from bone. Skulls and femurs, pieces of bombed human remains, were exhumed from the sediment by nature, the water running over, round, under the skeletons of war. When the storms moved in off the sea, the lightning flashing over the deserted airport and the slums of Hay al-Sellum, it was as if Lebanon was giving up its dead, revealing its terrible secrets to the innocent young men of the multinational force."
      Bones eventually washed up on the beach.

© Gretchen McCullough 2004

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author bio

Gretchen McCullough was raised in Harlingen, Texas. After graduating from Brown University in 1984, she taught in Egypt, Turkey, and Japan. She earned her M.F.A. from the University of Alabama in 1995, and was awarded a Teaching Fulbright to Syria from 1997-99. Excerpts of her novel The Cleopatra School have been published in The Texas Review and The Alaska Quarterly Review. Essays about Syria have appeared in Archipelago, Gloss, Iris, and National Public Radio. She teaches Composition and Playwriting at the American University in Cairo.

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issue 41: March - April 2004 

Short Fiction

G.K. Wuori:Naked With Boys
Nelly Reifler:Personal Foundations...
Pat MacEnulty:The End
Paul Bergstraesser: Humility
Colm Clark: Mimes for Christ
picks from back issues
Javier Marías: Fewer Scruples
Adam Haslett: The Beginnings of Grief


Gretchen McCullough:The New Beirut


Adam Haslett by Sherry Ellis


19th-Century English Literature
answers to last issue’s quiz John Steinbeck

Book Reviews

Villa Incognito by Tom Robbins
The Furies by Fernanda Eberstadt
Dead I May Well Be
by Adrian McKinty
Boy A by Jonathan Trigell
The Language of Sharks by Pat MacEnulty

Regular Features

Book Reviews (all issues)
TBR Archives (authors listed alphabetically)

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