May a Strained Thing Snap

Olivia Shabb




Set in 1960s Lebanon, this powerful family story traces the ripple of grief through generations, from a husband’s battle with bereavement to the complex relationship between twin sisters as they try to overcome the limitations imposed by society on their class and gender.
Fayez Shatawi is a man of the soil, where his crops grow abundantly; a man of the beasts, whose manure provides his livelihood; and a man of the mountain, which looms majestically over Kfar-Ghabra, a remote village in Northern Lebanon.
Proud farmer, father and husband, Fayez’s world is upended when his wife Maha dies days after giving birth to their son. Torn apart by grief, the Shatawi family must adapt to the new life forced on them by tragedy – shrinking their horizons, dividing their loyalties and crushing their dreams.
Meanwhile, beyond the mountain the 1960s are underway, and beginning to penetrate this rural community. Yet Fayez never expected to be confronted so emphatically, so brutally, by the clash of tradition with modernity as he is when his headstrong daughter, Nay, becomes pregnant by the grocer’s son, Makram Tammouz. Forced into a reluctant union, the growing tensions between the village’s poorest family and its most affluent will soon cause bruises to bloom and spread – on the skin and in the heart; in the home and on the streets.
Though the book spans a relatively peaceful period in Lebanese history, distant political rumblings are perceptible, and the novel concludes with the outbreak of civil war in 1975, mirroring the turbulence in the Shatawi-Tammouz households.
Ultimately, this is a story about the opposing forces of conservatism and progress, and the strain they place on a family and a society. Illuminating the many facets of love – how it heals and roots, how it distorts and demands, and how its absence can culminate in disaster – it reveals, with a precision that is at once brutal and tender, what people do for themselves, and for one another, to harvest faith and resilience from the mundane.