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Lives Between The Lines: A Journey in Search of the Lost Levant

Michael Vatikiotis

3 Reviews

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An intimate portrait of a critical period of Middle Eastern history (1869-1948), seen through the eyes of a single family

The story begins with a parting of the sands - the construction of the Suez Canal in 1869 that united the Mediterranean with the Arabian Sea. It opened the door of opportunity for people living insecurely on the fringes of a turbulent Europe.

The Middle East is understood today through the lens of unending conflict and violence. Lost in the litany of perpetual strife and struggle are the layers of culture and civilisation that accumulated over centuries, and which give the region its cosmopolitan identity. It was once a region known poetically as the Levant - a reference to the East, where the sun rose. Amid the bewildering mix of races, religions and rivalries, was above all an affinity with the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Today any mixing of this trinity of faiths is regarded as a recipe for hatred and prejudice. Orthodox Jews in Israel seize land that belongs to Sunni Muslim Arabs; Sunni Muslim Egyptians burn down churches that Egyptian Copts have worshipped in for centuries. It all seems hopelessly irreconcilable. Yet it was not always this way. There was a time, in the last century, when Arabs and Jews rubbed shoulders in bazaars and teashops, worked and played together, intermarried and shared family histories. Michael Vatikiotis's parents and grandparents were a product of this forgotten pluralist tradition, which spanned almost a century from the mid-1800s to the end of the Second World War in 1945. Following the collapse of the Ottoman empire and the establishment of the European colonial order, deep divisions between sects intensified and Vatikiotis's family found themselves caught between clashing faiths and contested identities. This is the story of his family - consummate outsiders and people set adrift - who built new lives and prospered in holy lands, only to be caught up in conflict and tossed on the waves of a violent history.

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Praise for Lives Between The Lines: A Journey in Search of the Lost Levant

  • Books on the rise of Asia tend to concentrate on China and India. Vatikiotis fills a gap by providing a lively and learned guide to the politics, personalities and conflicts that are shaping a dynamic group of countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Burma - FINANCIAL TIMES on BLOOD AND SILK

  • Vatikiotis's arguments are fluent and convincing, and his writing is suffused with a deep knowledge of and affection for Southeast Asia and its peoples - LITERARY REVIEW on BLOOD AND SILK

  • [An] ambitious and timely book - THE ECONOMIST on BLOOD AND SILK

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Michael Vatikiotis

Michael Vatikiotis is a graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and gained his doctorate from the University of Oxford. He is a member of the Asia Society's International Council and has a decade of experience working as a private diplomat and conflict mediator for the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. Prior to that he worked as a journalist in Asia for thirty years, living in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong. He is the author of two previous books on the politics of Southeast Asia and is based in Singapore.


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