Tarek El-Ariss: Water on Fire

Saturday, May 4, 2024 - 6:30pm

Literati is thrilled to welcome Tarek El-Ariss in celebration of the release of his memoir, Water on Fire

About the Book: El-Ariss’ memoir unfolds against the backdrop of Beirut devastated by the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), tracing a journey of immigration that spans continents. From experiences of displacement in Europe and Africa to northeastern American towns battered by lake-effect snow and economic woes, WATER ON FIRE culminates in the heart of New York City during the seismic events of 9/11. It is a tale of loss, but more importantly, of evolution, as it models a kind of resilience inflected with humor and irreverence.  

Alternating between El-Ariss’ perspective as a child and as an adult, he explores the complexities of living with trauma. El-Ariss artfully illustrates how the legacy of war shapes our fears, desires, and ultimately, our understanding of the world. Being spurred into action by the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, El-Ariss wished to confront anxieties that came from childhood and the pandemic and began to write the story about a water distribution system that he and other children devised during the Lebanese Civil War to deliver water to every floor in their apartment building. Upon writing about this experience, a voice was elicited that had waited years to emerge and delivered a survival kit and a set of realizations that completely upended his understanding of how we suffer, heal, and grow. 

WATER ON FIRE is at once historical and universal, intellectual and introspective. This work is a contemporary “interpretation of dreams” dealing with monsters, invisible creatures, skin outbreaks, and the sea. It is a book about objects and elements, like water and fire, and how encountering these elements trigger associations that connect the past and present across time and space. 

Tarek El-Ariss is the James Wright Professor and Chair of Middle Eastern Studies at Dartmouth College and was a Guggenheim Fellow (2021–22). Trained in philosophy, comparative literature, and visual and cultural studies at the American University of Beirut, the University of Rochester, and Cornell University, he is the author of Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Affects and the New Political and Leaks, Hacks, and Scandals: Arab Culture in the Digital Age, and editor of the MLA anthology The Arab Renaissance: A Bilingual Anthology of the Nahda

Event address: 
124 E. Washington
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Water on Fire: A Memoir of War By Tarek El-Ariss Cover Image
ISBN: 9781635424461
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Other Press - April 23rd, 2024