A Book Review: “Men In The Sun”, Ghassan Kanafani

About The Author:

Ghassan Kanafani born in Akka, Palestine, April 9, 1936. Assassinated by a car bomb in Beirut, Lebanon,  by the Mossad, July 8, 1972. Ghassan was a writer and an active leading member of The Popular Front Of The Liberation Of Palestine. So besides being a writer he was a politician.

About The Book:

Published in 1963, It’s a reflection of actual reality of struggle of a lot of Palestinians to survive, to live or die, to face humiliation and face the cruelty of the world outside, which they didn’t know before 1948. Of course the story doesn’t only draw a picture of some people’s lives at that time, but it also symbolizes the dimensions of the tragedy and the disaster of a certain period of time in the Palestinian history, showing us part of the struggle and the aftermath of some deeds and decisions.

Kanafani in his narration in this book depended a lot on flashbacks and characters’ memories, the reader might feel confused at the beginning, he kept coming back and forth in time, and mixed stories, hopes, dreams, fears, tragedies, incidents and feelings together. I can say that, once the reader realizes that it’s based on flashbacks, they will enjoy it and find it very easy to read. Besides it’s very well-put and short enough that it won’t bore the reader. 

The Review:

In a 100 pages Kanafani tells a story of three Palestinian men who were seeking the future by trying separately & desperately to reach Kuwait through smugglers, but later they end up trying together, to run a way from Iraq, where they couldn’t find jobs and had no official papers to prove their residency, which ends up in a total failure and the death of the three of them.

Kanafani himself at some point of his life went through such an experience, when he had to remain hidden at home for some months because he had no official papers. So his story “Men In The Sun” is a reflection of reality showing the political, social and financial hardships Palestinians struggled with at that period of time. 

The story is made of 6 chapters and 4 main characters. The first chapter exposes the first character to the reader “Abu Qais” an old Palestinian man, From Jaffa,  who’s married and has a kid, living in Iraq, after he got exiled from Palestine, 1948,  in a small tiny room, that was offered to him by someone out of pity, he’s jobless and got no money, depressed and helpless.

The second chapter talks about “Asa’ad” a young man who ended up smuggled in Iraq after his exile from Ramleh in Palestine to Amman in Jordan. He tried his best to get to Kuwait but he failed once, and still insisted to try again. The money he had was what his uncle gave him, trying to help him in any way, to start his life and marry his daughter, whom he didn’t want to marry, but accepted the money for his own good.

The third chapter shows us another character “Marwan”, another young man who is forced to leave school to start working by trying to escape to Kuwait from Iraq as well, since his eldest brother disappeared and stopped sending money to the family, the family on the other hand is torn apart and no one is there to financially support them, he feels obliged and responsible to help them.

The three Palestinian men at random times meet the same fat smuggler who offers them his service cruelly for 15 Dinar, and everyone thought it was too much money, and they were afraid of trusting him, because they heard how some other Palestinians were abandoned in the desert, after they paid, and how they were lost there and dehydrated to death.

In the third chapter another character is introduced “Abu Khaizaran”, a Palestinian man, who’s got a stable job in Iraq as a water-tanker driver, who works for a rich man, but wants to make more money, since he couldn’t have another purpose for life. Before he moved to Iraq he was a victim of some explosion in Palestine and lost his manhood.

In chapter four, “Abu Khaizaran” offers the three men his idea of smuggling them through the borders of Iraq and Kuwait using the water-tanker, and explains his plan, the guys agree to hide in the empty water tank twice, once before the Iraqi check point, and Once before the Kuwaiti, and pay him 15 Dinar each upon arrival, assuring them that mission won’t take a lot of time since everyone knew him on the borders, and taking in consideration the deadly summer heat. The first check point was passed smoothly, while the next one took “Abu Khaizaran” time as the security men and those who worked in the office wanted to chat and catch up with his adventures. 

He drives fast inside the desert to be out of sight, and as he wanted to let the guys out of the tank, he finds them all dead. He throws them away on the side of the road, takes their money and someone’s watch, and gets angry and confused, wondering why they never screamed, shouted or banged the walls of the tank to ask for help, that’s in the last chapter.

Katia

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On The Third Palestinian Intifada

When the first Intifada started in Palestine, late 80s to early 90s, I was myself a child, I saw these guys who were around teenage ans early 20s fighting and dying as men because of the age difference

But when the second Intifada started, during the early 2000s, I was myself a hot-blooded teenager, with all the patriotism and enthusiasm, not understanding yet the size of the sacrifices done over there, I saw these guys as my peers..

If what’s going on now is the third Intifada, which is 15 years later and I’m in my 30s already, I’m not capable of understanding how an 18 years old, younger or older, have the courage to face firearms and armed trucks, naked with some stones or knives, and put their whole lives on their sleeves, not just their hearts and their families hearts, they are in my eyes now on the screens just young teenagers.

And all one can feel is a lot of pride, mixed with a lot of shame and discomfort…

A Book Review: The Other Thing “Who Killed Layla Al Hayek”, Ghassan Kanafani

To Mera, 

The girl who suddenly fill in love with Ghassan Kanafani, and has always been in love with Palestine.

About The Author:

Ghassan Kanafani born in Akka, Palestine, April 9, 1936. Assassinated by a car bomb in Beirut, Lebanon,  by the Mossad, July 8, 1972. Ghassan was a writer and an active leading member of The Popular Front Of The Liberation Of Palestine. So besides being a writer he was a politician.

kanafani 5

The Book:

The Other Thing “Who Killed Layla Al Hayek”, is a novel that was published the first time in the weekly magazine”Al Hawadeth” in Beirut, in a format of nine episodes, starting in June 1966. Ghassan Kanafani never publish it separately, maybe as assumed, dude to political reasons; The 1967 War.

The Review:

Many critiques saw the book as a negative thing in Kanafani’s works, relating that to the difference in theme and style of his writing, since usually he referred all his books and fictional books to the political situation in his motherland, Palestine.

After reading the book, which is of a fiction/Detective genre, full of suspense and analyzing of the circumstances that made the main character “Saleh” the murderer of “Layla Al Hayek”, I still didn’t see why was it considered different. The whole story, if quickly read without any further analyzing, or without being given a further thought, looks like many other fictional books, I agree. But looking deeply into the story and the idea behind it, Ghassan Knafani shouldn’t had been criticized.

If we re-read the book once more, and viewed “Layla Al Hayek” as “Palestine”, everything will change in our eyes. Ghassan Kanafani is a symbolic writer, and a good writer/Author, he wouldn’t, as many good authors, teach us how to read him, he simply wrote and we simply read and still reading. “Layla” if taken as “Palestine”, would make complete since, the case of all Arabs and Palestinians, murdering their own land by “Accident” or “Ignorance” or “Personal Interests”, pointing fingers on the most logical “Person” or “Party”, who is “Saleh” in the story, and the “Arabs” in real, being in the right place and time under the perfect circumstances.

“Saleh’s” silence in the story, is one thing that doesn’t really make sense to the reader; why would anyone not defend themselves in court, in front of a death sentence? To me at least, Ghassan did want us to see how “Saleh”, as “Arabs”, knew there was nothing much he could do to change his destiny, as everything around him was totally against him, and much stronger than him. Which can also be related to what “Arabs” had to go through back then, although at that time, they did try to change things, either with their resistance, silence, their blood being shed, sacrifices or else how.

But there is also the mutual feeling “Saleh” and “Arabs” have/had, which is hope. “Saleh” had hopes for something magical, some miracle maybe, to happen to get him out of the curse he was under, to be taken to another world, where he isn’t standing in a court accused for a murder of a woman he barely knew, but desired to feed his ego as a man, he wished for his past peaceful life back, but he didn’t fight for it, he was sentenced to death and all he did was writing a letter to his wife, which can be the new life and the next generations of the Palestinians and all the Arabs, asking her to believe that he didn’t kill “Layla”, and that he loved her, his wife, genuinely.

There is one more mutual feeling between “Saleh” and “Arabs” in the story, which is “Shame”; shame of allowing something stupid like that to happen, by not assuming he was walking towards a trap set by life and circumstance. He didn’t defend himself, because he was ashamed to admit out loud that he was having an affair with a married woman, who’s his wife’s friend. He was ashamed of being seen as a filthy lawyer, and an unfaithful man to his own family, he was also afraid to ruin the reputation of “Layla” too, and that’s what “Palestinians” did later on when they flee and immigrated and left their lands behind them, they felt ashamed not knowing how to justify their act and behavior.

In the story “Saleh” admits in his letter that he, at some point, wished “Layla” dead, because this is the only way he could keep her love in his heart, without problems, besides the love he had to his wife. And this is also what happened to “Palestinians”, who lost their lands; they deep inside them will always love what they were forced to lose.

He at the end shared his will with his wife, to use the letter for future reference for herself and others around her to start a new life, to turn a new page and keep going, not to give herself a chance to look back, reminding her that time is a healer. He even shared his fears with her, he hoped with terror that he can keep his silence in front of the hanging rope and face death quietly, and this is every “Palestinian’s”, inside “Palestine”, attitude, the full surrender to death for the sake of the sacrifice.

This whole thing might show something here, maybe the disappointment Ghassan Kanafani might have had felt back then at some point while writing his episodes for the magazine, the tiny bit of political surrender he might have had had in his heart at a certain stage of his life, of the sadness towards his love to his country.

Ghassan didn’t point out his attachment to the land directly in this book, nor showed it to us in fictional understood rhythms,and that to me , certainly, makes it a very successful piece of art. Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe the critiques were right, thinking Ghassan did write something different that had nothing to do with the case of Palestinians, all Arabs and Muslims. But literature is an art, and you go figure 🙂

Katia

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