On March 1st, 2010 we revisited Gate of the Sun (Bab al-Shams) by the Lebanese author Elias Khoury, published in 1998.
With a lyrical approach to language and a wandering approach to the traditional timeline, this ambitious, provocative, and insightful novel captures the Palestinian crisis – from the war of 1948 to the present – in a collage of poignant and very human stories. It is an emotional and beautiful saga that simply envelopes the reader.
For more about Gate of the Sun and Elias Khoury see below:
For more on Elias Khoury see the Facebook Group …if you’re not on Facebook, then check the description below, included here with many thanks and all credit to the Elias Khoury Facebook Group.
Elias Khoury (Arabic: الياس خوري) (born in Beirut in 1948) is a Lebanese novelist, playwright and critic. He has published ten novels, which have been translated into several foreign languages, as well as several works of literary criticism. He has also written three plays. He currently serves as editor of Al-Mulhaq, the weekly cultural supplement of the Lebanese daily newspaper Al-Nahar, and is a prominent public intellectual.
Life and career as academic, critic and editor
Elias Khoury was born into a middle-class family in the predominantly Christian Ashrafiyye district of Beirut. In 1967, as Lebanese intellectual life was increasingly becoming polarised, with the opposition taking on a radical Arab nationalist and pro-Palestinian hue, Khoury travelled to Jordan where he visited a Palestinian refugee camp and then enlisted in Fatah, the largest resistance organisation in the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. He left Jordan in 1970 after the Palestinian guerrilla forces in the kingdom were crushed in Black September and travelled to Paris to continue his studies. There he wrote a dissertation on the 1860 civil war in Lebanon. After returning to Lebanon, he became a researcher with the Palestine Liberation Organization’s research centre in Beirut. He took part in the Lebanese civil war that broke out in 1975, and was seriously injured, temporarily losing his eyesight.
Khouri’s first major involvement on the Arab literary scene was as a member of the editorial board of the journal Mawaqif, which he joined in 1972. Other members included Adonis, Hisham Sharabi and, somewhat later, Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish. Of this group, Khoury later remarked that it was important, but marginal: “We were neither on the liberal right nor on the classical left. Intellectually speaking, we were very much linked to the Palestinian experience.”
From 1975 to 1979 he was editor of Shu’un Filastin (Palestinian affairs), collaborating with Mahmoud Darwish, and from 1981 to 1982 editorial director of Al-Karmel. From 1983 to 1990 he was editorial director of the cultural section of Al-Safir. He has been editor of Al-Mulhaq, the cultural supplement of Al-Nahar, since its reappearance after the end of the civil war.
Elias Khoury’s first novel was An ‘ilaqat al-da’ira, 1975. It was followed in 1977 by the highly successful The Little Mountain, set during the Lebanese civil war, which Khoury initially saw as a catalyst for progressive change. Other well-known works include The Journey of Little Gandhi, about a rural immigrant to Beirut who lives through the events of the civil war, and Gate of the Sun, 2000. An epic re-telling of the life of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon since the Nakba of 1948, Gate of the Sun also subtly addresses the ideas of memory, truth and story-telling. It has been made into a film by Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah.
Interviewed for the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot after the appearance of the Hebrew translation of the novel, Khouri remarked:
…when I was working on this book, I discovered that the “other” is the mirror of the “I.” And given that I am writing about half a century of Palestinian experience, it is impossible to read this experience otherwise than in the mirror of the Israeli “other.” Therefore, when I was writing this novel, I have put a lot of effort into trying to take apart not only the Palestinian stereotype but also the Israeli stereotype as it appears in Arab literature and especially in the Palestinian literature of Ghassan Kanafani, for example, or even of Emil Habibi. The Israeli is not only the policeman or the occupier, he is the “other,” who also has a human experience, and we need to read this experience. Our reading of their experience is a mirror to our reading of the Palestinian experience
Khoury’s most recent novel, Yalo, was controversial as it depicted a former militiaman accused of crimes during the civil war and portrayed the use of torture in the Lebanese judicial system.
Khoury’s novels are notable for their complex approach to both political themes and more fundamental questions of human behavior. His narrative technique often involves an interior monologue, at times approaching a stream of consciousness. In recent works he has tended to use a considerable element of colloquial Arabic, although the language of his novels remains primarily classical Arabic, which is also called standard Arabic. This use of dialect forms adds to the credibility and immediacy of the narratorial voice. While use of dialect in dialogue is relatively common in modern Arabic literature (for example, in the work of Yusuf Idris), Khoury introduces it into the main narrative, an unusual step although one clearly associated with the narrative technique of his works.
Elias Khoury’s works have been translated into English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, and Swedish.
Recent political engagement
Al-Mulhaq, under Khoury’s editorship, became the “tribune of opposition” to controversial aspects of the post-Civil War reconstruction of Beirut led by businessman and politician Rafiq al-Hariri. The destruction of surviving elements of the city’s architectural heritage in the Burj area and the old Jewish quarter of Rue Ouadi Abou Jamil aroused particular opposition.
In March 2001 Khoury signed a statement along with 13 other Arab intellectuals (including Mahmoud Darwish, Samir Kassir and Adonis), opposing the holding of a Holocaust denial conference in Beirut, a statement which was praised in Le Monde by the Israeli ambassador to France. Khoury responded angrily to the ambassador’s remarks, pointing to the Israeli repression of the Palestinian intifada.
Khoury, along with Samir Kassir and other intellectuals and political activists, was involved in the establishment of the Democratic Left Movement.
List of works
- عن علاقات الدائرة 1975
- الجبل الصغير 1977
- ابواب المدينة 1981
- الوجوه البيضاء 1981
- المبتدا و الخبر 1984
- رحلة غاندي الصغير1989
- مملكة الغرباء 1993
- مجمغ الاسرار 1994
- باب الشمس 1998
- رائحة الصابون2000
- يالو 2002
- كانها نائمة 2006