four-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
22-May-June-2006
By: 
Elias Khoury
user_rating: 
0

A-GateOfTheSun.epsAs Yunes, a Palestinian resistance fighter, lies in a coma at an improvised hospital in a refugee camp near Beirut, Dr. Khalil tries to keep his spiritual inspiration, the "Wolf of the Galilee," as Yunes is better known, alive. To do so, Dr. Khalil recites the Naqba (or "catastrophe") stories about their lives—from the War of 1948 to the present-day Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some flashbacks, told in the spirit of 1001 Arabian Nights, reflect the displacement, terror, and hope of the Palestinian people. Other vignettes—about a madwoman, a wedding-night farce, infanticide—are haunting, comical, and heartrending. But all reflect the Palestinian experience, in which "war became a ghost that seeped into people’s clothes and walked among them."
Archipelago. 540 pages. $26. ISBN: 0976395029

NY Times Book Review 5 of 5 Stars
"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. … Gate of the Sun is an imposingly rich and realistic novel, a genuine masterwork." Lorraine Adams

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The reader cannot help but be reminded of Jewish folk-tale dybbuks and holy men. … This great, sprawling novel provides, as little else can, a window into the thinking of Palestinians, and a touching, powerful glimpse of their unique place in world history." Amy Wilentz

Village Voice 4.5 of 5 Stars
"… the first true magnum opus of the Palestinian saga. … Khoury opens up a whole new territory, envisioning a place where confronting pain and suffering might lead, if not to reconciliation, then at least to recognition of the other in oneself, even as it gets harder every day." Ammiel Alcalay

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Humanity and compassion are what give this rich and teeming narrative its shape, creating a work that in its essence is a heartfelt plea for sanity and peace. … The stories that Khalil tells are a heartrending, interlocking tangle of loss and hurt." Marjorie Kehe

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"This is a profoundly realistic novel. … In giving this testimony as directly as possible, Khalil—and by extension, Khoury himself—has told the long, sad story of Palestinians." John Freeman

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The novel heralds no new beginning and very little hope, and the circular narrative out of which Khalil tries to find his way makes us feel that the characters’ deaths will keep recurring. That’s bad news for those of us still hoping to see peace prevail in the region, but good material for Khoury, whose bleak sense of history feeds this powerful novel." Samir El-Youssef

Critical Summary

Gate of the Sun, first published in Arabic in 1988 and later translated into Hebrew and French, won Le Monde Diplomatique’s Book of the Year in 2002. Its translation into English provides a standing ovation by reviewers. Khoury, a Lebanese novelist, interviewed Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East to produce a dazzling set of characters and stories. While bloody and sad, the stories eschew despair, accusation, and divisive ideology for compassion and understanding. In his attempt to recreate a Palestinian homeland through imagination, Khoury opens a rare, firsthand window into the Palestinian mentality and history. Its length and challenging nature may be less appealing to some readers, but its plea for peace will last.