Posted by: Corri van de Stege | December 1, 2007

Gate of the Sun

One of the books that was on my list of the Armchair Traveller is Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun.  This is not a slim volume, to read during a couple of train journeys.  It requires dedicated time and deserves it.  Reading it is like looking at a vast canvas of stories depicting the lives of Palestinians, in and out of camps, in and out of their Palestine after 1948, you see the movements of the villagers, the ordinary men and women and children, the old and the young, across a country that is at war; they move from Galilee to Lebanon and slip back, they lose everything and become reluctant travellers and inhabitants of camps.

The stories are narrated by Dr. Khaleel, who is not really a doctor but got some medical training in China when was deemed unfit for the military training he had signed up for.  Khaleel talks to Yunis, a Palestinian freedom fighter who lies in a coma and he is trying to keepYunis alive, wants to wake him up, by narrating the things that have happened to him and to others, people they both know.  These stories are in the form of a continuous stream of thought processes that seamlessly go over from one to another event or memory, from the heroics of one man to the murder committed by a son or the cowardice of an uncle or neighbour;  linking for example the destruction of a Palestine village by the Jews to the massacre of Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972 and the death of the son of a Palestinian who is keen to boast about his own heroics.  The tone of the book is one of grief, a lament, of ordinary people caught up in a maelstrom that they cannot escape from, in which they are relentlessly carried along.

The urgency and intensity of the narration is beautifully constructed, using language like a musical instrument to convey love and hatred, compassion and cruelty, slaughter, cowardice and heroics, and it keeps the reader in thrall even though there is nowhere to go, nothing finishes, life goes on and other stories unfold.

This is a book about people, not politics, written in a unique style of first person character addressing the dying freedom fighter telling him everyone’s story including that of the unconscious man himself and that of the woman Naheele, whose life is inextricably linked to that of Yunis.



  1. Although my time is very limited these days I always try to read your comments, seachanges. The Palestinian issue has all the time been blamed on terrorism and nobody seems to realise there is an even nastier process in that land: ethnicity, racism, religious motivations, people being displaced away from their traditional homes.

    Shame on those who have made this happen.

  2. Jose: so glad to see you back – the book is an eye opener, at least for me. Apologies for not responding – have been away to the deep south: Exeter 🙂

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