Caroline Torbey was living on the port when the Beirut blast crumbled her world. In her new novel, Èclat d’Une Vie, she recounts those hours after the blast and the toll that corruption has taken on the Lebanese people.
As a young married couple, Caroline Torbey and her husband purchased an apartment in front of the port in Beirut. They decorated their new home with new furniture and beautiful paintings and created a space that was comfortable, cozy, and just right for newlyweds. But in one instant, Torbey and her husband lost everything they had built.
“I saw the port during the explosion. We were at home, and my husband got injured,” says Torbey when we caught up with her to discuss her new book, Èclat d’Une Vie, which is a fictional novel about her very real experience. “I got injured. My apartment completely collapsed. Everything was destroyed. But it was not just the material destruction, but our moral distress, our own mental d’Une Vie health was affected, and it was very difficult to overcome this trauma.”
Torbey describes in horrific detail the trauma of the blast, the wreckage of her dream home, and the horrifying hours after the blast when she was desperate to find medical attention for her beloved husband.
“Until now I have nightmares,” she tells us as she describes what it was like driving through the smoke and streets after the blast, looking for any hospital that had not been destroyed. “I said, oh my God, did I just drive on a human leg or arm or whatever it is? It was chaos. Total chaos in the city. The whole city and the whole dynamic of the city were just broken. I got to this suburban hospital that was very badly affected by the crisis before the blast, and this hospital doesn’t have any anesthesia, compressors, or disinfectant. So my husband was given 85 stitches. Without anesthesia.”
In order to process her trauma, Torbey set out on a journey using the written word as a therapeutic tool for healing. She found her catharsis when she put pen to paper and began pouring out her story. But as she began forming the words of her novel, she discovered truths that had been living inside for years desperate to be seen and grappled with. She wrote about the blast, of course, but she also wrote about what life was like before the blast and what life had become after.
As her words weave through the past and present, it’s hard to ignore the corruption, inflation, energy crisis, lack of clean water, the decline of the national currency, and the inability to even access their own money from their own bank accounts. In hindsight, seeing it all compounding together, an explosion of some kind was inevitable as the bubble of the population’s intentional ignorance finally burst.
“Before 2019, there were problems. I cannot say that everything was perfect and the culture was not corrupted, but the difference is that we didn’t have to face the truth as much as we are facing it right now,” Torbey explains. “It’s a lot of little things, you know, but these small things make life easy. And our now is not easy because of the lack of these little things. Before 2019, we had a quiet, normal life. We could travel without any problems. We could eat without any problems. Today, everything is really different.”
Torbey describes a life post-blast that does not let you forget that you are living in conditions that the rest of the world cannot even comprehend.
“You know, for the first two or three vaccines for my daughter, I had to bring them from abroad, “ Torbey says as she nurses her daughter off-camera. “Imagine. I was not sleeping at night. I was thinking, oh my God, how would I get the vaccines from my daughter? How would I get milk for my daughter? How would she eat?”
Basic human substance haunts the minds of young mothers as they try to feed their children. They buy local food, but the food is not of good quality, and the prices are exorbitant. The cost of powering a generator is astronomical, but without it, people are relegated to only two hours of electricity a day. Imagine what that can do to a refrigerator. Torbey also describes a shortage of clean water in her book that is all too scary and way too close to home.
“But in this book, I am not talking politics. What’s the point, it’s all corrupted anyway. It’s a book that talks about the human side of the explosion – of the human experience – and expresses how to overcome it when you face trauma in your life. This is my own experience.”
But despite the hardship that Torbey encounters both in her novel and her real world, she remains thankful that she can express what she has endured.
“Just the fact that you speak about what you experience – that you put words to the suffering you experienced – it’s already relieving. For my people. My shoulders were becoming lighter and lighter and lighter. I felt this big weight I had on my shoulder evaporate. I felt that I was relieving myself by speaking, and by telling them, not only the Lebanese, but telling the world what we lived, who we are, and what we need.”