Arabic: Shahida (root) – to bear witness; a female witness. Sha:hid – gravestone, epitaph. Shah:id – martyr
About the book: It’s set during the civil war in Lebanon from the middle 1970s through about 1990, a series of events which I think are as defining for our modern world as the events in Berlin just after WWII were for the Cold War period. Some example concepts include the role of the human body as a weapon at the same level of political and military effectiveness as the highest tech, the recasting of democracy away from U.S. client status, and if not the first appearance of political Islam by a long shot, certainly its most original and independent version.
I’m basing the whole endeavor on Lebanese and related fiction and non-fiction from the war period, just as Spione is framed and conceived through the lens of a special kind of spy fiction and non-fiction. Lebanese literature is fascinating, shattered and re-defined by the war just like the country was, especially Beirut – it’s surreal, rules-breaking, sexy, violent, and guts-exposing, all in colloquial and uncompromisingly street/slang Arabic, which until that time never saw print. The concept of the witness is absolutely central, because so much of the literature is unplanned: diaries which get published, poems which were not intended to be published, non-political writing which becomes political, and stuff like that.
I’ve played the game enough to be very happy with it. It’s strongly influenced by Grey Ranks but utilizes a soft-touch, constant-action card process which makes everyone’s hand (actually a face-up array in front of each person) relevant at all times. The group plays a family through phases of the war, with each phase bringing random family members “forward” as protagonists, and with one constant character (the Witness) throughout. Each phase, two of the players are the War, and with the start of the next phase, one of them rotates out.
To put it simply, if the group stays with the ordinary procedures of play, the family will probably get ground down and ultimately scattered or dead, after several phases. But if anyone at the table (current War players excepted) opts to use the special mechanic called the Judgment, then things can be a bit different. The Judgment is pretty scary, maybe the scariest thing I’ve ever designed, and that includes the Trespass in Spione. I’ve tried to make it very open-concept, such that its precise fictional nature can vary quite a lot and it’s not a single tool with only one meaning. But ultimately it’s about when you have morally had enough and must act to stop what is happening.
Chapter 1: The Witness – introducing the concept and the relevant fictional and semi-fictional literature
Profile 1: The Vocabulary of the Twentieth Century – about the AK-47 and human bombs
Chapter 2: The Center of the World – why the Levant is such a big deal, and deconstructing the phrase “the fall of Rome”
Profile 2: Oil and Water – an ecological look at money, (bad) diplomacy, and war
Profile 3: Mukhabarat – middle eastern spying; the one I’m using here for the example
Chapter 3: Notre Dame du Liban – how the confessions of Lebanon fit into the grand scheme of the Abrahamic religions
Profile 4: Ahl al-Khitâb – “People of the Book,” a look at the texts for the Abrahamic religions
Profile 5: God Will Know His Own – fundamentalism and orthodoxy, for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Chapter 4: Beirut, Ooh La La! – my love letter to the city, but including the edgy content about what the war did to it
Profile 6: One Country – Palestine/Israel – concisely (yeah, right)
Profile 7: The Hisb – all about Hezbollah – ditto
Chapter 5: Al-Hawadess – a walk through the phases of the civil war, with diagrams
Profile 8: Easy and the Bulldozer – side-by-side discussions of Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, culminating in the Sabra-Chatila massacres in 1982
Profile 9: Send in the Marines – U.S. intervention in Lebanon, culminating in the destruction of the Marines barracks in 1983
Chapter 6: Story Now – the rules of the game
The Italian version is available through Narrattiva under contract. Here’s the cover, by the wonderful Claudia Cangini:
Buy it here (if you read Italian).
And this is what some Italian academics are saying about it! Oggetti ludici non identificati: recensione a Shahida, in Il Lavoro Culturale (in Italian)
Also, a 2013 Articolortre review