Yoghurt and Jam (or How My Mother Became Lebanese)
by Lena Merhej
Translated from the Arabic by Nadiyah Abdullatif and Anam Zafar
Winner of English Pen Award
Lena Merhej’s graphic memoir Yoghurt and Jam is set in Lebanon, where tradition pairs yoghurt with cucumber and salt. Discovering how her mother likes her yoghurt sparks a captivating exploration of what led her mother from Germany to Lebanon, as well as triggering Lena’s quest for self-discovery. Blending humour with poignant reflections, Lena delves into her mother’s life as a doctor during the Lebanese Civil War, challenging East-West clichés and embracing the complexities of hybrid identity.
About the Author
Lena Merhej is a visual storyteller and an expert in graphic narration. Lena has taught at several universities in Beirut. She is the founder and director of the Story Center, which offers professional training in animation, illustration, and comic books.
Lena was the director of the Beirut Animated Festival, and worked with Tosh Fesh to promote comics and animation in Arab countries. She has illustrated over twenty-five Arabic children’s books and has exhibited her work both locally and internationally. Her animated Drawing the War (2002), her comic book Kamen Sine (Another year, 2009) and her book Murabba wa laban (Yoghurt and Jam) won international awards. She is a co-founder and a member of Samandal, an award-winning comics organization in Lebanon.
About the Translator
Nadiyah Abdullatif is a Mauritius-born, Scotland-based editor and translator working from Arabic, French, Mauritian Creole and Spanish into English. Her translations of Arabic and Mauritian literature, including comics and graphic novel excerpts, have appeared in Wasafiri, ArabLit Quarterly and The Markaz Review. She has previously been a translator-in-residence with the National Centre for Writing and has worked as a copy editor for Asymptote.
Anam Zafar translates from Arabic and French to English and holds an MA in Applied Translation Studies from the University of Leeds. She won the 2021 Gulf Coast Prize in Translation, the inaugural Stinging Fly New Translator’s Bursary, and was longlisted for the 2021 John Dryden Translation Competition. She was also a 2021 ALTA Virtual Travel Fellow. She has collaborated with the National Centre for Writing as translator in residence and Emerging Translators Mentee, and appeared at the Bila Hudood: Arabic Literature Everywhere festival. She volunteers for World Kid Lit and The Linguist’s Editorial Board. Her translations have been published by ArabLit Quarterly, Gulf Coast, The Markaz Review and The Stinging Fly, among others.
Publication date: 10 October 2023
Format: Paperback 244mm x 170mm (Graphic memoir)
Pages: 128 pp
Lena Merhej’s graphic memoir Yoghurt and Jam is set in Lebanon, where tradition pairs yoghurt with cucumber and salt. Discovering how her mother likes her yoghurt sparks a captivating exploration of what led her mother from Germany to Lebanon, as well as triggering Lena’s quest for self-discovery. Blending humour with poignant reflections, Lena delves into her mother’s life as a doctor during the Lebanese civil war, challenging East-West clichés and embracing the complexities of hybrid identity.
I wrote this book in my late twenties, at a time when children learn about adulthood and start to understand their parents. But writing about my mom has been a real challenge. The idea only came to me after long and painful therapy sessions.
I observed my ‘foreign’ mother as she raised five kids in Lebanon—half of us Muslims, and the other half, Christians—in the midst of the Lebanese Civil War, where Christians and Muslims fought against each other. I also observed my mother, the doctor, the special educator and the professor, face challenges and danger, and still grow dreams and realise projects. I thought about her ideals, her love for children and for Lebanon, and I tried to learn again from her.
My mother was an angry woman, but she was also a joyful mother. She was Maria from The Sound of Music, a movie we saw a million times growing up. Like Maria, my mother had a tormented existence somewhere else, yet she was determined to love and to regularly engage us kids in some weird artistic activity.
I am proud to say that this book came about as the comics community in Lebanon was growing. Most of the chapters were previously published in the first issues of Samandal comics, a pioneering collective I co-founded in 2007 in Beirut. The book won an award for the Best Graphic Novel in Arabic at Festival de La BD à Alger (FIBDA) in 2012. And last but not least, it was the first graphic novel to be translated from Arabic to French with Alifbata Editions (Marseille 2016), and now with this English translation, finally my German family will read it!