Zena el Khalil, a young Beirut-based female artist, writer, and activist who had an unconventional but worldly upbringing growing up in Lagos, Nigeria and attending art school in New York, returns after 9/11 to her familial home of Beirut and its mountains, beaches, food, music and drugs. Beirut, I Love You, spanning from 1994 to the present day, brings Beirut to life in all its glory and contradictions and is filled with personal anecdotes of Zena's life there: a place where, in spite of the pervasive desire for hope and the resilience of its people, still bears deep scars from the Lebanese Civil War and the Israeli invasion of 2006—a place where plastic surgery and AK 47s live side by side and nightclubs are situated on rooftops in order to avoid car bombs. Yet Zena and her friends, in particular her fellow rebel Maya, refuse to accept the extreme poles of Beirut, the militias and gender restrictions on one side, hedonism and materialism on the other. And although Zena experiences tragedy and loss, her story is a testament to the power of love and friendship, and the beauty of her city and its inhabitants.
Written with an honest, profound simplicity, Zena is intoxicated by the country’s contradictions—“Lebanon was, and always will be, schizophrenic”—and attempts to come to terms with her role among her friends, family, and city.
"El Khalil brings the city and its current events to life through personal anecdotes about loss, tragedy, friendship, life as a young woman in a polarized city, and love for this conflicted, beautiful place she calls home." —Gwyneth Paltrow, goop
"Part love letter and part memoir, el Khalil's work employs her artist's eye and ear to depict Beirut during and after the Israeli attacks on the country's south and the Lebanese civil war. No simple chronological narration, this is rather a highly personal, impressionistic depiction of events and emotions.... The author's varying tones of passion and detachment heighten the emotional effect. Like Baghdad, which has somehow always survived, el-Khalil defies defeat. Her unflinching inside view of Beirut's tragedy and of 'Amreekan' duplicity underscore why her 2006 blog beirutupdate.blogspot.com received international attention." —Publishers Weekly
"Her book is like sitting down and having a conversation with her. You will feel close and connected, and it will feel relevant to you. Sensual and visceral, you will smell, hear, and taste Beirut, and you will not be disappointed." Time Out Magazine (Beirut edition)
“Lebanon and Iraq have both been the subject of numerous books written by Westerners, but there are far fewer books available in English written by insiders of those two countries. [Beirut, I Love You and The Devil You Don’t Know] are therefore valuable as they portray these war-inflicted societies as seen through the sharp eyes of two ‘returnees’.” — The Tanjara blog
“Zena El Khalil paints a picture of a city that is often on the brink of war, where its inhabitants work hard and party harder.” — Fred Rhodes, Middle East
“The Israeli armed forces' 34-day war against Lebanon in 2006 has inspired any number of literary works on both sides of this country's troubled southern border. One of the best-known is Beirut, I Love You, by Lebanese pop artist Zena el Khalil, who found worldwide fame during this conflict with her blog recording its progress, beirutupdate.blogspot.com.” — The Daily Star (Beirut)