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The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing by…
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The Day Nina Simone Stopped Singing (2008)

by Darina Al-Joundi

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The book describes the life of an independent woman in war torn Beirut, Lebanon. She is raised by a secular freedom loving father who brings her up to live life as a “liberated woman.” Al-Joundi does just this while also going through the difficulties of living through war and the constant changes that occurred in Lebanon during the 1970s and 1980s. It is a tragically comical coming of age story.

Al-Joundi tells a brilliant story of her life and of her father. It is filled with clever quips, enlightening statements, and brilliant imagery. Much of the discussion follows war and the simple state of growing up as a young woman

Scenes of death and war are interspersed throughout this book. One moment you will find yourself laughing at a simple scene and the next there will be a scene of such dread.

The remarkable descriptions and language used within the book make it an endearing tale and one that reaches deep into your being and stays with you. The imagery is unforgettable and the story is one that is different. It goes beyond war and discusses the issues a wild and reckless female encounters in life. The part that makes it so fascinating is that she is attempting to live an independent life in a place where it is not common for a woman to be independent.

This book is a coming of age tale that has you laughing out loud and also shocks you to the core. It is much more than just a story of a woman coming to age: It is a tale of a woman living in a war torn country, a tale of a woman’s love for her father, a tale of a woman’s desire to be free in a country that is anything but, and it is a tale that shouldn’t be ignored.

Overall, I couldn’t put this book down once I picked it up. It is not only a worthwhile read, but one I think most people would enjoy thoroughly. Though I must warn that there are some scenes describing not only war, but sex and it can be rather graphic. It is a poignant, beautiful, and funny memoir that is by far worth the time it takes to read.
  dragonflyy419 | Feb 5, 2014 |
This is a short and brutal autobiography about Al-Joundi growing up and coming to maturity during the Lebanese civil war that began in 1975 (when she was 7) through various forms to its end in 1990, by which time Al-Joundi was 22 years old; she left Lebanon at 30 years of age, in 1998 and fled to Paris.

I say the book is ‘brutal’ because, from the start of the civil war, it recounts an unrelenting history of violence, of a society defined, and torn apart, by sectarianism. In school, Darina, as a child is berated by a nun for not knowing what Church she belonged to. The nun shouted, “What do you mean you don’t know? You’re in Lebanon, we all know where we come from, to what community we belong, of which there are seventeen in our country; so are you Armenian, Greek, Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Maronite? Even cats know to what religion their families belong, even a dog can smell whether his leash is held by a Greek Catholic or a Greek Orthodox.”

It is also ‘brutal’ for the effect of society and war on the maturation of Darina. Original signs were good: Darina’s father, “a fervently secular man” was determined to raise his daughters as “liberated girls”, talking openly about sex, giving Darina fine Bourdeau wine for her 8th birthday, discouraging and disparaging any and all religious affiliations, encouraging and reminding his daughters that they were beholden to no man and could be themselves. Darina’s mother, a radio broadcaster, was more traditionally minded, but she was very much in love with her husband. Darina describes her childhood as, “…a constant feast. Our parents taught us the meaning of beauty…My childhood was a perpetual clinking of arrack glasses and my father’s laughing shaking the walls.”

This idyllic childhood of untrammeled potential was shattered, as were so many other lives, by the civil war. Darina’s father was often underground or under arrest. Society disintegrated as violence and lawlessness ruled, in patches of the city with the often shifting lines. Darina, as she got older, moved into a world of uninhibited sex, hard drugs, even Russain roulette one time. But at the same time she grew scar tissue on her emotions and her feelings. Her first act of fellatio with a boy she had a crush on was, “a performance, a purely technical skill, a piece of work well crafted.” Years later when she had a lesbian experience, despite the tenderness and lovemaking she could feel nothing, she could not respond.

Finally, after a severe beating because she had spoken disrespectfully of the Koran, she was committed to a mental hospital by her mother with the threat, in connivance with the authorities, that she would spend the rest of her life there unless she reformed. Darina knew this was real and played the game to obtain her release. But she knew there was no life left for her in Beirut where society covered her back with labels: “druggie, whore, madwoman, lesbian, atheist”.

Darina’s father, on his death bed, “had become quite aware that all his dreams of liberty, secularity, and love had gone up in smoke.” The day after her release from the hospital, Darina was at the airport to grab a flight to Paris.

This a sobering, searing book, but one that deserves to be read as long as there are women in the world whose rights and reputations are based solely on the attitudes and actions of men. Darina was one of the lucky ones: she had the fortitude and means to escape. How many other lives were crushed and ruined, if not under buildings, then under prejudices and hatred. And always, always, it is worse for the women.
  John | Nov 12, 2013 |
Unsettling doesn't even begin to describe this book. For such a short book, it was a hard read. This book follows the life of Darina Al-Joundi. Born in Beirut in 1968, her life was one of constant chaos. In times of almost constant war, Darina grew up never knowing if she'd live to see the next day. Her family constantly moved around to avoid the danger around then, but often ended up back in Beirut.

I can't say that I enjoyed this book per se, but it was a good book. Darina had no identity to speak of. Because of her parentage, she had no claim to citizenship anywhere. She was told to speak one language at home and one at school. With no stability due to the war, her life was one of chaos. Thinking she would die at any moment, she threw herself into drugs and sex with anyone she ran into. Honestly, I thought it was a wonder she survived to tell her story.

This was certainly a sad tale. It was also cautionary to some extent. The horrors of extended war are detailed. More than anything though, I felt like Darina really missed out on security and stability while growing up. Without those things, she bounced from one thing to the next trying to find what could make her feel good about herself. This book was harsh, but I think she was brave to be able to tell about everything that happened. I am curious to find out if she has found some peace living her life on her terms now. I hope she has.

Book won in online contest. ( )
1 vote l_manning | May 16, 2011 |
Ce livre est unique en soi, par son style et par son ton, par la franchise extreme avec laquelle cette jeune fille raconte son enfance et son adolescence au Liban. Parfois le language cru n'aurait pas été nécessaire car cela ne contribue point à accentuer le message. Le livre est troublant et touchant et dessine un tableau plutôt précis du Liban en guerre civile et nous présente le quotidien des gens sur place à traver le drame de cette jeune fille. A lire.
  zsuzsmagic | Jul 18, 2009 |
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In June 2006, I was organizing an event around the issue of Beirut in a theater in Paris.
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