PERSONAL: Born in Lebanon.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Granta Books, 1755 Broadway, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Journalist and author. Worked for newspaper Al Hayat.
The House of Mathilde (novel), translated by Peter Theroux, Granta Books (New York, NY), 1999.
SIDELIGHTS: Hassan Daoud, a Lebanese journalist, used his experiences covering the civil war in Beirut as the basis for his debut novel, The House of Mathilde. Translated by Peter Theroux, the novel is considered one of the first works of fiction about the war to be published in the English language. Unlike many of his countrymen who fled to safer areas, Daoud, who was born in south Lebanon, stayed in Beirut for the duration of the sixteen-year war and reported on its events for Al Hayat, a Lebanese newspaper. Affected by the overall tragedy of the war, Daoud was inspired to write his novel. Rather than focus on the war as a whole, however, Daoud instead chose to use the events revolving around a fictional apartment complex to show how Beirut's social strings gradually come unraveled because of the war. In fact, the reader is not even aware that the building is in Beirut until later in the book.
Like pre-war Beirut itself, the apartment building is inhabited by families of many different ethnicities, religions, and economic statuses. Despite their differences, the residents have a strong community, as each neighbor looks out for the others. The main character, Mathilde, who is one of the older residents of the building, keeps an eye on the actions of all those who come and go, and is looked upon as a leader. The novel charts the lives of several of the building's families, as they experience births and deaths, and deal with the vents of their lives. The author gives detailed descriptions of each family's living quarters: what type of furniture they have, what can be seen from each balcony, and how some prefer Western-style bathrooms to more traditional Arab facilities. As some of the residents begin to abandon the building and city, Daoud finally lets the reader know that the building is located in Beirut, and the pressures that are causing the departures are war-related.
Eventually, bombs and fighting gain a larger presence in the book. The communal spirit of the building wanes as each successive family leaves, and strangers move in and squat in the abandoned apartments. The neighbors no longer greet one another, as they stay behind locked doors. As the fighting grows closer to the dwelling, the number of those who stay gradually dwindles, until only one woman remains. Even Mathilde is killed. A nameless man, who is the nephew of the last remaining woman, narrates the tale. His narration jumps back and forth through time, and the sentence, "My aunt was alone in the building" recurs throughout the book. Finally, the building takes a direct hit from a bomb, ripping it apart. Its remnants symbolize the fate of Beirut itself. Lucy Dallas, who reviewed The House of Mathilde for the Times Literary Supplement, was impressed by the uncomplicated, but profound nature of the book, and referred to it as a "simple, unnerving novel."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Times Literary Supplement, May 14, 1999, p. 33.*