Two days into a visit to Lebanon in June, I sensed my reputation for navigation had fallen to the floor on the grounds of a rattling failure to locate a bookshop I knew was only a few hundred metres from our hotel in Beirut’s teeming Hamra district.

In its dense, often unrevealing Levantine setting, you would have thought The LittleBookshop would advertise itself like a siren to a foreigner adrift — especially one anxious to find English translations of Elias Khoury, Alexandre Najjar and Amin Maalouf. No such luck. I had some excuses — street signs rendered in inscrutable Arabic, slight discrepancies between map and actuality, the general disorientation that comes with foreignness...

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