Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Laura's Review: Gate of the Sun

Elias Khoury
539 pages

First sentence: Umm Hassan is dead.

Reflections: One of the most valuable lessons of my adult life has been realizing that the history we learn in school is just one point of view. As Elias Khoury writes, "I'm scared of history that has only one version. History has dozens of versions, and for it to ossify into one leads only to death."

In Gate of the Sun, Khoury tells of Arab - Israeli conflict from a Palestinian perspective. Khalil Ayyoub is a doctor caring for a man named Yunes, his mentor and father figure who has fallen into a coma after a stroke. Although the hospital director has declared Yunes will not recover, Khalil maintains a bedside vigil, talking to Yunes in the desperate hope that this will bring him back. Khalil recounts Yunes' youth prior to the formation of the Israeli state in 1948, the displacement of Palestinians, and Yunes' work as a freedom fighter from that point onwards. Yunes is forced to live apart from his wife, Nahila, and their children, because he will be killed if found. His rendezvous with Nahila take place in a cave near their village, the only place they can spend time together. They lived this way for years, with Nahila bearing several children and raising them on her own.

Khalil also tells stories of his own life, including his love for a woman named Shams, who is a sudden victim of the violence surrounding them. Shams' story, and that of their relationship, unfolds gradually throughout the novel. The book proceeds with Khalil sitting by Yunes' bedside weaving tales day after day for nearly seven months. Through these stories we gain an understanding of this period in history as seen by Palestinians; a very different perspective from that of the US government and media.

Khoury writes beautiful, descriptive prose: "A woman walking alone through the rubble of her village looking for the stones that were once her house. A woman alone, her head covered with a black scarf, hunched up in that emptiness that stretches all the way to God, among the hills and valleys of Galilee, within the circle of a red sun that crawls over the ground, passing slowly and carrying with it the shadows of all things." Yet I found the stream of consciousness style a bit difficult to follow, and had trouble keeping names, places, and events straight. In the end, I was ready to finish this book so I could get on to my next read.

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