I have long studied the religion of the Phoenicians, the ancient inhabitants of modern-day Lebanon, but until December, I had never been to Lebanon itself. My week there during Dartmouth's holiday break was wonderful, so wonderful that since I returned, I have been trying to hold on to the experience by reading the award-winning Lebanese-born author Amin Maalouf. His novel Ports of Call depends on a perhaps clichéd plot: an improbable love that, like such loves often do, starts off in an idyll of happiness that is quickly undone by challenges beyond the two lovers' control. In this case, the challenges involve the fraught political world of the Middle East, beginning in the final days of the Ottoman Empire and continuing through the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War. The novel's first-person narrative style forces us to confront these political traumas in an intense and immediate way, yet the narrator never loses sight of the sheer beauty of the Lebanese physical landscape or of Beirut's magnificent and rich cultural heritage.