Song for the Missing
*Longlisted for the 2023 Dublin Literary Award*
A sensitive and mysterious novel on friendship, family and destruction
It’s 2011 and the Arab Spring is in full bloom when the discovery of two bodies in Beirut sows the first seeds of unrest in Lebanon. With houses already burning, Amin sets out to write down his memories of the country: Of the year 1994, when he returned as a teenager with his grandmother, twelve years after his parents’ deaths. Of his friendship with Jafar, the boy who explored the desolate postwar landscape with him. And of the painful discovery that there will never be certainty—neither about his friend’s past nor his family’s history. In this novel full of mystery and suspense, friendship and loss, searches and secrets, Jarawan skillfully interweaves a deeply personal story with the tumultuous history of the Middle East.
Pierre Jarawan was born in 1985 in Amman, Jordan, to a Lebanese father and a German mother and moved to Germany with his family at the age of three… Read more
Book Club Questions
- What part of Song for the Missing did you enjoy most?
- Many characters seem to feel guilty in various ways. Did any particular example of this stand out to you?
- Amin feels guilty about letting people down, though events are often beyond his control. Can this tendency be traced to his childhood?
- Is the sense of lack Jafar and Amin each feel—about their early childhoods—different in any significant way?
- Amin sometimes feels guilty about not having experienced The Events. Does his grandmother feel similarly insufficient towards the Germany she spent part of her life in? Why, why not?
- Is there perhaps an opposite sentiment in his grandmother—does she feel entitled to a life her environment isn’t providing?
- Why did Amin and his grandmother stop talking?
- Is Amin in any way unreliable as a narrator? Can you pinpoint any giveaways?
- Does this possible unreliability mainly color the historical or personal aspects of the narrative?
- Are you clear on the story of Amin’s parents, especially just after he was born?
- Is there a parallel between Amin’s relation to his home country and toward his parents?
- Is the intimacy between Amin and Jafar’s sister towards the end a fitting kind of closure?
- Or did you ever have a sense that it was somehow wrong? If so, in what way?
- Do you suspect there’s an autobiographical element to Song for the Missing? Does this change how you think about the book?
- Had you read The Storyteller by Pierre Jarawan? If so, did this enrich your experience of Song for the Missing?
- Have you read any books by Amin Maalouf? (Not the protagonist of this book, but the author with the very similar name, who is also published by World Editions.) How do the pictures they paint of Lebanon compare?
Praise for Song for the Missing
“Affecting and complex. … This is a gripping, human look at a tragedy that still haunts an entire nation.”
“There’s a well-crafted balance to Jarawan’s approach, the dropping of bombs and corruption leavened by the poignant and thoughtful depiction of a family trying to navigate a way through the trauma. Elisabeth Lauffer’s translation is moving yet urgent.”
“This is a novel of friendship, loss, and secrets, with insights into the present and past of the Middle East.”
“This second novel confirms the young author’s storytelling capabilities.”
“In a 2006 Lebanon haunted by the ghosts of the civil war and threatened by present-day bombs, a young man wanders a fractured landscape and wonders what happened to his childhood friend, Jafar, with whom he upsold trinkets embellished by tall tailed origin stories. Mysterious and moving, Song for the Missing is a quietly brutal noir that dishes out equal parts empathy and scorn for humanity and its many destructions.”
“Pierre Jarawan has written a luminous, intimate, staggering novel. His prose is powerful, impactful, poetic. A great read that won’t leave you unmoved.”
La grande parade
“Song for the Missing is another success, a fantastic second novel. What a joy to reencounter Pierre Jarawan’s beautiful writing pen, and his talent for storytelling!”
Tu vas t’abîmer les yeux Blog
“We discovered the author last year with The Storyteller. A book that was a big success among our readers. I’m at a loss for words to describe the power of Pierre Jarawan’s pen and prose in his latest novel, Song for the Missing.”
Autour D’un Livre Bookshop
“A love letter to Lebanon and its people—a deft, sensitive book that steers clear of ‘oriental’ clichés, with a poetic narrative voice.”
DANIEL SPECK, screenwriter
“It’s a family story, and it’s also a story of identity. It is a story of the entanglements of the Middle East and the Europeans and it is also—I think—a coming-of-age story.”
Bayern 2’s Diwan: Das Büchermagazin
“A story that gets under your skin and shows that our lives are always the sum of everything that happened to the previous generations.”
“A highly poetic book in an equally poetic language.”
Deutschlandfunk Kultur’s Lesart podcast
“Pierre Jarawan once again proves to be a magician of language. He writes in a clear, poetic language that is deeply moving and impresses with enchanting and atmospheric images of Lebanon’s cities. In a virtuoso way, Jarawan links the events of the Middle East, the civil war, and the Arab Spring with the life of the narrator—a story of Lebanon you won’t forget.”
“Despite the lightness of the novel—which can also be read as a coming-of-age, love, friendship, and family story—it is a critical examination of Lebanon. Jarawan’s narration retains the lightness he displayed in his debut, which has been translated into many languages.”
“Pierre Jarawan speaks confidently and warmly of the wounds of the war, repressed trauma, and the attitude towards life of a generation with limited hope. A wonderfully poetic—but also political—novel about Lebanon. Absolutely recommended.“
“A new Jarawan as we love him: sensitive, exciting, and tightly linked to the eventful history of the Middle East.”
Rheinischer Spiegel Online
“Pierre Jarawan lets Lebanon come alive over decades in a sensual and factual manner, but also the friends Amin and Jafar, their thoughts and feelings, their strength, their abysses.”
Welt am Sonntag
“Jarawan manages to maintain the high level of his first book. With his typical passion for telling stories, the fun of wonderfully poetic linguistic images that manage to bring smells and tastes to life, and a gripping and touching story, he again manages to bring Lebanon closer to us historically, politically, and emotionally.”
“Jarawan, who adorns without overloading, succeeds in creating an impressive picture of Beirut, the former ‘Paris of the Middle East,’ before, during, and after the 15-year civil war. And the novel has become sadly topical due to current events, the explosion on August 4, 2020, in the city’s port.”
“This moving novel is dedicated to 17,000 people who disappeared without a trace during 15 years of civil war. But Jarawan also portrays the beauty and poetry of the country and recalls the great tradition of the hakawati, the Arab storytellers.”
“A gripping story that touches the central trauma of today’s Lebanon.”
“Such a touching and gripping book!”
SRF2 Kultur’s Kontext podcast
“An atmospheric novel.”
“With the way Jarawan tells his story, he has created a little masterpiece.”
Ö1’s Ex libris
“The characters act with great sensitivity in a fast-paced, moving, and wonderfully narrated novel.”
“Jarawan’s second novel imparts a great deal of geopolitical and contemporary historical knowledge, stimulates reflection on exile and art—and translates these complex topics into interwoven, twisting stories around a convincing ensemble of characters in a vivid and confident manner. A book that is worth reading repeatedly.”
“Song for the Missing is a haunting read that tries to understand Lebanon and its people, that links the political with the everyday and creates wonderful scenes and characters through vivid language that draws in the reader. Read it!”
Anjas Bücher Online
“Pierre Jarawan’s novel Song for the Missing works on many different levels.”
“In his novel, Pierre Jarawan artfully combines the most varied narrative strands into a larger whole.”
“Humorous and sophisticated reading.”
Acher- und Bühler Bote
“Song for the Missing is perhaps best compared to a colorful mosaic. Stone by stone the result is an unforgettable picture, a story with characters that stay in the heart.”
“In Song for the Missing, Pierre Jarawan describes a moving fate.”
“The reader strolls and wanders through strange worlds of fragrant, intense street scenes full of sweet melancholy, biting fear, and teasing irony, where the imagination and grit of the shrewd Beirut youth are as at home as the memories of the countless people who turned into ‘the missing,’ when they disappeared forever.”
“The new novel by Pierre Jarawan: sensitive, exciting, and virtuoso, and linked to the dramatic history of the Middle East.”
Why You Should Read This Book
“Stories cannot bring back what is lost. But they can allow us to experience it again. This is why, in my second novel, I had to go back to Lebanon. To tell Amin’s story. Because his story is the story of so many others. And to explore—with the means of a writer—what literature and art in general are able to contribute when it comes to opposing silence.”
PIERRE JARAWAN, the author
“Can objective truth exist in memory, or are the stories we tell ourselves and others about the past iterative, the details ever-shifting? Jarawan asks readers to consider how narratives are constructed. When I began working on Song for the Missing in February 2020, I couldn’t have known that this question would inform my own understanding of the year’s truths—COVID-19, the heightening climate crisis, movements for racial justice—as the world struggled to ascribe meaning to stories taking shape in real time.”
ELISABETH LAUFFER, the translator
“Pierre Jarawan is a brilliant storyteller: he manages to tell a beautiful and moving story about love, friendship, and family and to interweave it with the most significant turning points in Lebanon’s turbulent past. His work takes you there, to experience for yourself what it’s like to grow up in a country where destruction and beauty go hand in hand. I fell completely in love with his debut The Storyteller, and with Song for the Missing this love has only deepened.”
JUDITH UYTERLINDE, the publisher