The Best of Hard Times explores the gendered identities of two generations of men in the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut. Gustavo Barbosa compares the fida’iyyin, the men who served as freedom fighters to reconquer Palestine in the 1970s, to the shabab, their sons who lead seemingly mundane lives with limited access to power. While the fida’iyyinn displayed their masculinity through active resistance and fighting to return to their homeland, the shabab have a more nuanced relationship to Palestine and articulate their gender belonging in alternative ways.
Through vivid ethnographic stories, Barbosa critically engages with certain trends in feminism, calling attention to their limits and considering nimble views on gender. Instead of presenting the shabab as emasculated or experiencing a crisis of masculinity, the book shows the pliability of masculinity in time and space and argues that "gender" has limited purchase to capture the experiences of today’s youth from Shatila. Based on two years of fieldwork, The Best of Hard Times answers the burgeoning demand for anthropological literature on Arab masculinities and portrays refugees as inventive actors rather than agentless victims of circumstances beyond their control. The Best of Hard Times is a tour de force combining highbrow theory with gripping ethnography, challenging many of the stereotypes on gender, power, statehood, and the role of Islam in the Middle East.