Gate of the Sun

Elias Khoury’s Bab Al-Shams, which was published in Beirut in 1998, and subsequently translated into French (2000) and Hebrew (2002), has finally arrived in the US. Translated by Humphrey Davies, and published by Archipelago Books this week, Gate of the Sun is about Khalil, a Palestinian doctor who sits by the bedside of his friend and patient, Yunes, and reminisces about their lives, in an attempt to bring him back to consciousness. The idea of narrative as a means of survival is, of course, central to Arabic literature, beginning with The Thousand and One Nights, and its application to the context of Palestine is quite apropos.

Reviews of the novel, which was widely praised in the Arab world, Israel, and France, have begun to appear here. Writing in Harper’s magazine, John Leonard finds that

After Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun, readers can no longer pretend that Palestine is merely a fugitive state of mind, a convenient Arab myth, a traumatic tribal memory, and somebody else’s problem. This remarkable novel out of Lebanon, a skillful reshuffling of the 1001 Nights with a doctor in a refugee camp playing the part of Scheherazade, fills in the blank spaces on the Middle Eastern map in our Western heads–Palestine as history, as literature, as casualty list, as psych ward, as inferiority complez, as principality of exile.

And Lorraine Adams gives Gate of the Sun a rave review in the New York Times Book Review (This is not a misprint. We are indeed talking about a novel in translation, and about Palestine to boot, being reviewed in the NYTBR.) Here is Adams’s take:

There has been powerful fiction about Palestinians and by Palestinians, but few have held to the light the myths, tales and rumors of both Israel and the Arabs with such discerning compassion.

Those of you in DC will be able to hear Khoury read from his novel at the Palestine Center on January 18 at 6:30 pm. Write in to tell us how it went.

Ammiel Alcalay wrote about Elias Khoury for the Village Voice in 2002.
An excerpt from the novel appeared at Words Without Borders.
A film adaptation by Yousry Nasrallah was screened at Cannes in 2003.