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How I came by the book
I bought the critically acclaimed book by Michael Mohammed Ahmad from Better Read than Dead, my favourite bookshop in Sydney. It was in their staff picks. I did not regret the purchase.
The novel is intense. It can’t be read in large chunks (or at least I couldn’t). Ahmad is really crafty, creating chaotic scenes that the protagonist finds apocalyptic but the reader finds hilarious. The language is at times deeply poetic and moving and at other times graphic and vulgar. Sometimes the change in language is sudden and thus recreates the sense of urgency and hopelessness that the protagonist, Bani Adam, feels.
Bani Adam, the main character in the novel, is a sensitive Lebanese teenager, caught up in the hyper masculine world of Punchbowl Boys High School. He is a poet in a jungle of testosterone, and he is cautiously navigating through his last year of high school. While he navigates the school, he tries to make sense of his identity. He oscillates between the world of art and poetry and the world of the Lebs, trying to figure out just how ‘Leb’ he is. His exploration of identity deepens when he starts working in a play production with Anglo writers and actors and he finally learns how ‘Leb’ he is.
Bani Adam is the protagonist of the novel. He is a Lebanese teenager with a sensitive soul and a love of art and literature. I’m not a big fan of Bani, other than he is a wog who loves to read books. In many ways he is an annoying teenager, but I do appreciate his struggle to discover himself.
Pop Culture and Themes
The themes explored in The Lebs are all the ones I love to talk about. The author explores themes of identity and belonging as a Lebanese Australian in Australia. He further complicates things by placing his Alawite character in a predominantly Sunni school.
The Lebs explores what it means to be a sensitive Lebanese man in an environment overwhelmed with machismo. Ahmad explores masculinity and violence and the link between the two.
The novel also explores racism and internalised racism as well. There are various scenes within the novel when different characters discuss terrorism, rape and the differences in perception when a ‘Leb’ commits a crime.
The novel resonated with me deeply because – firstly, it is so well written. Secondly, I’m Lebanese and I enjoy reading well written books by other Lebanese people.
I strongly recommend this book if you want to gain insight into how it feels to be a Lebanese teenager in an Australian high school and witness how racism, masculinity and isolation operate.
I give The Lebs 9/10