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I Live (Novel)

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I Live (Novel)
GenreLiterary Fiction

Ana Aḥyā (I Live)[1] is the 1958 novel by the Lebanese writer Laila Baalbaki, and it was selected among the best 100 Arabic novels.

Novel Presentation[edit]

In her own unique, concise, and expressive style, Laila Baalbaki writes Ana Aḥyā (I Live). In it, she describes the bitter alienation a person experiences within their homeland and their family, trying to find a space among all the futility. The novel’s heroine – Lina – says “that’s how I am: An independent world that does not affect life with any external incident unless it comes from myself, human’s problem in myself. It is true I live with my parents and siblings, but I don’t feel their presence; they are behind the fence in this world of mine. They’re even outside the overflowing water channels.” She finds a job away from her family that brings her back her balance. She describes her family as “the richess of the war,” and the land ignites with the fire of the Second World War, making life rapidly change “We are richer: The richess of war.”[2]


Ana Aḥyā (I Live) is Laila Baalbaki’s debut novel, published in 1958. It gained mixed opinions due to its boldness, linguistically and content-wise, but it eventually got approval. Some said that the novel is just a collection of thoughts of a young girl and the life of the author. However, the novel gained a lot of traction among thinkers and critics. In fact, at the time, it became almost a phenomenon; simply mentioning its title brought to mind the main character, Lina Fayyad. The Lebanese poet Mikha'il Nu'ayma considered Baalbaki’s novel a modern narrative. The Palestinian-Iraqi writer Jabra Ibrahim Jabra found in the novel’s language a musicality and rhythm close to that of poetry. Ana Aḥyā (I Live) is considered to be the pioneer of modern novels by women, claiming that it is a marker in the evolution of the Arabic novel. The novel’s historical success persists today, for it is the first novel that rebels against the conventional Lebanese novel, having Beirut as its place setting and the modern era as its time setting. It also rebelled against classical and traditional narratives, and even on the scale of the positive character’s concept. It also gave ego a chance to act freely and become the core of the story.


In Ana Aḥyā (I Live), war is mentioned passively; it takes up one or two parts among 327 pages. The intentionality of this war is ambiguous, for according to the novel, Beirut – during that time – is a quite city whose inhabitants live their normal routines. In fact, the main character, Lina Fayyad, suffers from boredom, quietness, and emptiness in a country that – seems – devoid of conflict. After deciding to work in an office, she realizes that it is an office spreading capitalist, anti-communist propaganda. Lina does not seem to find a difference between how she feels about the office she works in and her parent’s home.

The non-Lebanese man, as mentioned in the novel, is affiliated with the American University. His goals and actions are not convincing, nor are his personality disorder or partisanship, of the passive paragraphs leading to his suicide. His affiliation with the American university also does not align with the paragraph. Bahaa’ was also unconvinced of keeping his traditional dogma. His character seems borrowed, and a mix of overlapping and fleeting perceptions, not making up any character or personality. Baalbaki only allows his character to daydream of making change, despite his partisanship, making it seem as if he is a teenage boy dreaming of joining a party.

In the novel, Beirut is portrayed as a city ignorant of the events that are going to occur to it in the following years. A city with little places despite the many foreigners, tourists and residents. There is the big family house, overlooking the most beautiful landscapes, the father whose wealth comes from his corrupt trade, the mother and two sisters who are submissive to their lifestyle, and the spoiled little brother whose role in the novel is kept to a minimum. The university is described concisely in the novel, for the novelist describes the study halls, the dynamic between the students, and the minimal conversations between the students and the teachers. Then, there is the workplace, whose details are put out in an orderly way in some paragraphs, and some paragraphs centre on the secrecy in the agency, like the always-empty green box in the ground floor.

The novel makes it seem as if nothing was happening during these years. For example, Lina goes to work, and everything happens normally, and nothing out of place occurs. The description coffeeshop where Lina and Bahaa’ meet is limited by the wall, table, and two chairs. These meetings consist of quick short dialogues between the two characters resolving conflict. Nothing much happens in the family house either; Lina maybe gets slapped twice from her mother. All these rebellion Lina strived for does not produce anything revolutionary. In literature, this is known as “absence of action.”

Adding to the absence of action some action to Lina Fayyad’s rebellion, the novel’s publication kept getting postponed to the feminist themes it includes.


Writing is the present and future. It is needless to say that this novel is a call for a certain need. Mikha'il Nu'ayma stated that this novel’s value is unmatched and unprecedented. The Palestinian-Iraqi writer Jabra Ibrahim Jabra found in the novel’s language a musicality and rhythm close to that of poetry, for the reader is prompted to stop at the end of sentences and paragraphs to ponder their meanings, and speed reading will take away from the experience.


  1. "Ana Aḥyā (I Live) - Laila Baalbaki's 1950s Novel". Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 13 June 2022.
  2. Baalbaki, Laila. Ana Aḥyā (I Live). Search this book on

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