Elias Khoury (Arabic: إلياس خوري) (born 12 July 1948) is a Lebanese novelist, playwright, critic, and prominent public intellectual. He has published 10 novels, which have been translated into several foreign languages, including English, as well as several works of literary criticism. He has also written three plays. Between 1993 and 2009, he served as editor of Al-Mulhaq, the weekly cultural supplement of the Lebanese daily newspaper Al-Nahar.
Elias Khoury was born in 1948 into a Greek Orthodox middle-class family in the predominantly Christian Ashrafiyye district of Beirut. This was the year that Palestinian refugees came to Lebanon and Jordan.
In 1967, as Lebanese intellectual life was becoming increasingly polarised, with the opposition taking on a radical Arab nationalist and pro-Palestinian hue, 19-year-old Khoury traveled to Jordan, where he visited a Palestinian refugee camp and enlisted in Fatah, the largest resistance organization in the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. He left Jordan after thousands of Palestinians were killed or expelled in the wake of an attempted coup against King Hussein, in Black September.
He continued his studies in Paris and wrote a dissertation on the 1860 Lebanon conflict. After returning to Lebanon, Khoury became a researcher at the Palestine Liberation Organization's research center in Beirut. He took part in the Lebanese civil war that broke out in 1975, was seriously injured, and temporarily lost his eyesight.
Academic and literary career
In 1972, joined and became a member of the editorial board of the journal Mawaqif. 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 to politics: "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, Khoury was editor of Shu'un Filastin (Palestinian Affairs), collaborating with Mahmoud Darwish. From 1981 to 1982, he was 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 revival after the end of the civil war.
Khoury published his first novel in 1975, An 'ilaqat al-da'ira. It was followed in 1977 by The Little Mountain, set during the Lebanese civil war, a conflict which Khoury initially thought would be a catalyst for progressive change. Other 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).
Gate of the Sun is an epic re-telling of the life of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon since the 1948 Palestinian exodus, which also addresses the ideas of memory, truth, and storytelling. The book was adapted as a film of the same name by Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah.
"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 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 novel, Yalo (2002, and translated into English in 2008 for US publication by American Peter Theroux), depicted a former militiaman accused of crimes during Lebanon's civil war. He described the use of torture in the Lebanese judicial system. The title refers to the name of a a Palestinian Arab village that was destroyed and in territory annexed by Israel during the 1967 war. All the inhabitants were expelled and most went to Jordan.
Khoury's novels are notable for their complex approach to political themes and fundamental questions of human behaviour. 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 Modern Standard Arabic, also called Fusha. This use of dialect forms adds to the credibility and immediacy of the narrative voice. While use of dialect in dialogue is relatively common in modern Arabic literature (for example, in the work of Yusuf Idris), Khoury also uses it in the main narrative. This is unusual in contemporary literature and has become part of the narrative technique of his works.
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 newspaper has sharply criticized destruction of surviving elements of the city's architectural heritage in the Burj area and the old Jewish quarter of Rue Ouadi Abou Jamil.
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. The Israeli ambassador to France praised his statement in an article in the newspaper Le Monde. Khoury responded angrily to the ambassador's remarks, pointing to the Israeli repression of the Palestinian intifada.
- (1975) 'an 'ilaqat al-da'irah (عن علاقات الدائرة)
- (1977) al-Jabal al-saghir (الجبل الصغير); English translation: Little Mountain (1989, Maia Tabet)
- (1981) Abwab al-madinah (أبواب المدينة); English translation: The Gates of the City (1993, Paula Haydar)
- (1981) Wujuh al-bayda (الوجوه البيضاء); English translation: White Masks (2010, Maia Tabet)
- (1989) Rihlat Ghandi al-saghir (رحلة غاندي الصغير); English translation: The Journey of Little Gandhi (1994, Paula Haydar)
- (1993) Mamlakat al-ghuraba (مملكة الغرباء); English translation: The Kingdom of Strangers (1996, Paula Haydar)
- (1994) Majma' al-Asrar (مجمع الأسرار)
- (1998) Bab al-Shams (باب الشمس); English translation: Gate of the Sun (2006, Humphrey Davies)
- (2000) Ra'ihat al-Sabun (رائحة الصابون)
- (2002) Yalu (يالو); English translations: Yalo (2008, Peter Theroux), (2009, Humphrey Davies: short-listed for Best Translated Book Award)
- (2007) Ka-annaha na'imah (كأنها نائمة); English translations: As Though She Were Sleeping (2011, Humphrey Davies), (2012, Marilyn Booth)
- (2012) al-Maryia al-maksoura (المرايا المكسورة: سينالكول) English translations: Broken Mirrors: Sinocal (2012, Humphrey Davis)
- (1984) "Al-mubtada' wa'l-khabar"
- (1979) Dirasat fi naqd al-shi'r
- (1982) Al-dhakira al-mafquda
- (1984) Tajribat al-ba'th 'an ufq
- (1985) Zaman al-ihtilal
- ^ Archipelagobooks.org
- ^ Archipelagobooks.org
- ^ Kassir, Samir, Histoire de Beyrouth, Paris, Fayard. ISBN 2-213-02980-6
- At Levantine Cultural Center.
- Interview with Elias Khoury, from Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies website.
- Review of Gate of the Sun, The New York Times.
- Jeremy Harding goes to Beirut to meet the novelist Elias Khoury, London Review of Books.
- Maya Jaggi, "A circle of madness", The Guardian, 28 July 2007.
- on war, literature and hope, BBC Newshour, 25 July 2015