Makdisi, Jean Said 1940–

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Makdisi, Jean Said 1940–

PERSONAL: Born 1940 in Jerusalem, Palestine (now Israel). Religion: Christian.

ADDRESSES: Home—Beirut, Lebanon.

CAREER: Writer and educator. Beirut University College, Beirut, Lebanon, teacher of English and humanities.


Beirut Fragments: A War Memorial, Persea (New York, NY), 1990.

Teta, Mother and Me: An Arab Woman's Memoir, Saqi Books (London, England), 2005, published as Teta, Mother, and Me: Three Generations of Arab Women, Norton (New York, NY), 2006.

SIDELIGHTS: In her first book, Beirut Fragments: A War Memorial, Jean Said Makdisi presents an account of life in war-torn Beirut since the mid-1970s. Makdisi, who was born in Jerusalem, raised in Egypt, and educated in the United States and England, settled in Beirut in 1972 after marrying a Lebanese professor. In the ensuing years, Makdisi bore witness as Beirut degenerated—through a long civil war beginning in 1975 and the Israeli invasion of 1982—from an ethnically diverse, culturally stimulating city to a battered battleground of warring factions. "Today," Makdisi wrote in Beirut Fragments, "the Beiruti's eye is constantly confronted by buildings in various stages of collapse; broken glass and torn awnings; dangling and broken electric signs … that once glittered in advertising gaudiness; shabby, dirty, overcrowded streets; blocks full of refugees, their children playing in the piles of rubbish scattered here and there, monuments to the war; telephone and electric lines hanging loosely from bent poles; stray dogs and cats, diseased and slow, sniffing at the garbage on empty corners."

Beirut Fragments won acclaim as a compelling account of a city's decline and a people's admirable struggle to survive. "Beirut's long-suffering residents," wrote Adrienne Edgar in the New York Times Book Review, "are fortunate that someone as perceptive and compassionate as Ms. Makdisi has come forward to tell their story." Writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, David Rieff commented: "In a time in America where … few people seem to believe in much of anything, Makdisi's example is worth pondering … and her faith in humanity worth emulating."

Makdisi once again writes about herself and her family's life in Teta, Mother and Me: An Arab Woman's Memoir. Makdisi breaks the narrative into three parts, beginning with her own story and then telling the story of her grandmother and mother. Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, noted that Makdisi's initial exploration into her family "grew into a far-reaching and arresting explication of Arab womanhood." Seaman went on to call Teta, Mother, and Me an "illuminating and significant work." Referring to the book as a "beautifully written memoir," a Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the author raises "important questions about the efficacy of ideology, the process of social development and the role of memory." Tina Jordan, writing in Entertainment Weekly, noted that the book is "written with the same passion and eye for detail" as found in her earlier memoir.



Makdisi, Jean Said, Beirut Fragments: A War Memorial Persea (New York, NY), 1990.

Makdisi, Jean Said, Teta, Mother and Me: An Arab Woman's Memoir, Saqi Books (London, England), 2005


Antioch Review, spring, 1994, Helena Corban, "Jean, Slavenka, and the Tea Party for Sanity," p. 270.

Booklist, February 15, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of Teta, Mother, and Me, p. 37.

Economist, May 25, 2006, review of Teta, Mother, and Me.

Entertainment Weekly, April 28, 2006, Tina Jordan, review of Teta, Mother, and Me, p. 139.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 9, 1990, David Rieff, review of Beirut Fragments, p. 2.

New York Times Book Review, September 16, 1990, Adrienne Edgar, review of Beirut Fragments, p. 41.

Publishers Weekly, February 13, 2006, review of Teta, Mother, and Me, p. 72.


Alwan for the Arts Web site, (August 30, 2006), brief biography on the author.

UCLA International Institute Web site, (August 30, 2006), Christine Chiao "Generations of Women," interview with author.