Is Beirut the New York of the Middle East? Maya Zankoul releases Beirut-New York Book
Rana Bou Saada

Is Beirut the New York of the Middle East?

Maya Zankoul releases Beirut-New York Book

Lebanese visual artist Maya Zankoul released her latest illustrated book, titled Beirut – New York, on the 20th of October, in Sursock Museum Beirut. The book enables readers to wander back and forth between Beirut and New York, exploring 40 unexpected similarities between the two cities. At the end of the book, readers can find a brief rationale for each of the 40 comparisons.

Zankoul first noticed the resemblance between Beirut and New York City when she compared the American yellow cab to the popular Lebanese “service”, a taxi that you can share with other passengers. She had in fact come back from a trip to New York and was feeling the usual post–vacation blues.

She was wondering what makes New York a universally praised city, when she found herself comparing it to Beirut. “I was very anxious to launch [the book] right after the summer season, so I had to move fast!” says Zankoul in an email exchange with Orient Palms.

Not only has Zankoul compared the two cities’ means of transportation, she has also noted the food’s likeness. Have you ever considered for instance the famous cheesecake as the American version of the Lebanese Knefe Be Jeben? Zankoul has in fact compared these two tasty deserts in one of her “deliciously – appealing” illustrations!

Furthermore, she has ingeniously pointed out some neighborhoods’ similarities, by comparing New York’s Chinatown to Beirut’s Burj Hammoud.

Crossing Borders

“We might have observed these similarities but we were never able to materialize them, like Zankoul did,” notes Raghida Samara, one of the artist’s fans, during the book signing event.

Samara’s words echo the book’s main message. According to Zankoul, “the world has become somewhat similar. The more you travel, the more you realize there are so many similarities across borders.”

Moreover, Zankoul hopes to challenge, through her new book, Beirut’s typical picture in the media, as “Beirut has been underrated and maybe misrepresented in news worldwide. It’s time to change that!” She adds that “the feedback has been excellent.” Even though she was worried that people will not identify with the book’s concept, “those who saw it noted that it gave them a fresh perspective on both cities!” she confirms.

A Mature Style

Beirut – New York is rather different from Zankoul’s previous work. Usually, the visual artist satirically illustrates Lebanon’s everyday situations from a socio-political stance. Her satirical cartoons can be found on her blog, Amalgam, launched in 2009, as well as in her first two books, published in 2009 and 2010. Her style, she says, “was born out of [her] love for basic and simple illustrations with a hand – drawn feel in them.”

Since then, Zankoul describes her style as having matured. The book’s illustrations “are more refined and detailed than the blog’s ones because the intention is different,” she states. Zankoul used to express her daily frustrations in her blog entries. Thus “the main idea was the message itself and the illustrations were quick sketches done late at night.” As for this book, it intends to reflect “the beauty of these comparisons. It is meant to be enjoyed slowly.”

Even though Beirut – New York has a unique message and a distinguished style, Zankoul was keen on portraying it as a continuation of her former work. The popular character that she usually uses in her illustrations “is actually featured at the beginning of the book to introduce its concept,” explains Zankoul.

You can order Beirut – New York directly from Zankoul’s online shop.