“I didn’t intend to write a book,” says Lebanese American author Karim Dimechkie – but he did. This year he released his debut novel “Lifted by the Great Nothing”. It started as a short assignment that turned into an 800-page draft, which was then slashed down to its present form. It’s a hilarious and heartbreaking coming-of-age story about a boy, his Lebanese father and a huge lie, offering readers an authentic glimpse into the immigrant experience and the mind of a growing boy.
Getting there was a long process for the author (it took three years to write the book) and along the way Dimechkie learned a lot about Lebanon and the writing process. Dimechkie says the most important part of being a writer is being in touch with the daily artistic process and trusting your instincts. “The only way your work might fascinate readers is if it genuinely fascinates you first,” he says. While the book is not autobiographical, the author says it’s actually “little pieces from my life turned into a collage.”
Born to a Lebanese father and French mother, Dimechkie grew up in various parts of the US but hardly knew Lebanon. He only deepened his connection with his fatherland while writing the book. “I traveled to Beirut to interview people who lived through the war, spent some time in Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp, and got a better feel for the ambience and history of AUB,” he recounts, adding that “exploring Beirut with a book in mind is much like walking with a camera: you see everything as being worthy of capture.”
Like Dimechkie, the book’s main character is of Lebanese origin growing up in America. And there are many others like them, not just in US, but all over the world. The Lebanese have historically traveled far and wide and a huge diaspora resulted after the civil war. The experience of being “foreign” is a rather common national phenomenon. Nowadays the whole world is experiencing increased migration and consequently the rise of “third culture kids”, people raised outside their parents’ culture(s). Dimechkie says he “felt at ease writing from the perspective of someone – Max, my protagonist – who doesn’t really know where he’s from.”
“I think the particular experience of the rootless world citizen, who doesn’t feel beholden to any one culture, is under represented in literature and in entertainment. Living a patchwork of colors, languages, religions, politics, places, and alliances often inspires us third culture kids to be chameleons, which, of course, has its pros and cons,” the author explains. On the bright side, he thinks the west is becoming more interested in these international perspectives, which is encouraging for aspiring authors that fit the profile.
Readers have also started to compare Dimechkie to another Lebanese-American author, the celebrated Rabih Alameddine. Dimechkie is flattered, but says they are in fact only alike in their interest in Lebanon. “I think he has his own striking voice, and I have mine. While country is important, story and tone are what make a writer’s identity, he explains.
Dimechkie is currently working on another novel – one that is very different from the first and has nothing to do with Lebanon – but he says, “I do hope to write more about Lebanon in the future. It’s a place I know my creative drive will be drawn to for many books to come.”