The Holocaust Taboo in Arab literature: Boualem Sansal and Elias Khouryairport_transferbarbathtubbusiness_facilitieschild_activitieschildcareconnecting_roomcribsfree_wifigymhot_tubinternetkitchennon_smokingpetpoolresturantski_in_outski_shuttleski_storagesmoking_areaspastar
The Holocaust Taboo in Arab literature: Boualem Sansal and Elias Khoury

The Holocaust Taboo in Arab literature: Boualem Sansal and Elias Khoury

Lindsay Parnell explores the work of Algeria’s Boualem Sansal and Lebanon’s Elias Khoury, two writers at the forefront of Middle Eastern Literature who have reinterpreted the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in their work.
Bouahem Sansal

In the often Anglo-centric world of publishing and best-seller lists, there exist truly unforgiveable omissions. With these notable absences of certain literary voices comes a silencing of artistic expression and human experience. In a truly vibrant time for international literature, the narratives birthed in the modern Middle East are redefining a canon through avant-garde methods of storytelling, and reinterpretations of a country’s political and cultural histories.

The contemporary canon of Middle Eastern literature is currently producing some revolutionary literary efforts. Rarely do novels capture so viscerally a sense of place intertwined with the cultural, political and religious histories of its people as seen in the work of Boualem Sansal and Elias Khoury. These writers have helped craft a canon that shares stories of horror but also, a tangible hope for prosperity.

Elias Khoury

These narratives explore mystic religious fables while retelling dark moments of brutally militant armies.Most importantly, this contemporary canon of gifted literary scholars in the Middle East are producing accomplished and unsettling accounts of political corruption and the civil and religious unrest plaguing the Middle East.

The emergence of the state of Israel and the exodus of Palestinians after World War II, also referred to by Palestinians as Nakbah or catastrophe, is experiencing a literary resurrection in the devotion of inspired writers, specifically in the fictional forum of prose narrative. Boualem Sansal and Elias Khoury have proven to be the leading voices of the canon, whose fiction offers often poignant, often violent, often unsettling, often inspiring, retellings and remembrances of Palestine’s often turbulent modern history.

The emergence of the state of Israel and the exodus of Palestinians after World War II, also referred to by Palestinians as Nakbah or catastrophe, is experiencing a literary resurrection in the devotion of inspired writers, specifically in the fictional forum of prose narrative. Boualem Sansal and Elias Khoury have proven to be the leading voices of the canon, whose fiction offers often poignant, often violent, often unsettling, often inspiring, retellings and remembrances of Palestine’s often turbulent modern history.

 

Algerian born scholar Boualem Sansal did not come to writing until the age 50, after an illustrious career as an esteemed government official. Sansal’s acute awareness of the heated political climate quickly corresponded to his literary efforts, presenting characters whose stories emulated both the turmoil of the country’s past and the uncertainty of its future. His novels, political in nature, are no strangers to controversy as they are infamous for tackling the perception of Islamic fundamentalism as a growing concern. Sansal’s cornerstone text, An Unfinished Business explores his perception of the strong connection between Nazism and Islamic fundamentalism. Although banned in his home country since 2006, Sansal’s An Unfinished Business remains a work of undeniable strength.

 

Boualem Sansal

Outside of Western Europe’s history of World War II lies an often silenced voice and greatly affected generation. Sansal’s novel features a strand of history that is often overlooked, the stories of Nazi war criminals who fled Western Europe and travelled to South America to re-establish themselves distanced from the wicked crimes they committed. An Unfinished Business exists there, in the emotional eruption of a young man discovering the villainous past of his father’s involvement in the Holocaust.

Elias Khoury

Ricocheting between the religious unrest in Algeria and derelict districts of Paris, An Unfinished Business tells the story of two brothers and the unforgivable secret their father has kept from them. Rachel and Malrich are the sons of a German father and an Algerian mother. When the brothers are young, they are sent to Paris to be educated and work. Rachel’s life exemplifies the success of an inspired student while Malrich strays from the formalities and accomplished expectations of his older brother’s life as his involvement in a jihadist mosque quickly escalates.But it is the tragic murder of their parents by Islamic radicals that leads to Rachel’s discovery of a dark family secret in the Nazi involvement of his father’s past. What follows is the unraveling of Rachel and Malrich’s family history and a harrowing education in the horrors of the Holocaust. Sansal explores not only Palestine’s modern history within the structure of a novel, but also ascertains ideas of the country’s social identity, memory and voice. This can also be observed in Gate of the Sun by Lebanese Author Elias Khoury. The literary works of Elias Khoury are an absorbing collection of stirring fiction of journey and memory. Presenting the fascinating and ever-fluctuating role of the intellectual during times of political turmoil and civil unrest, Khoury’s novels are stories that explore the often puzzling corners of the human psyche. As an active member and scholar of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Khoury’s research and extensive knowledge became the basis that inspired his distinguished collection of novels articulating the history of modern Palestine. Khoury’s most renowned text, Gate of the Sun, is an heroic matrix of a story using various voices, characters and histories, in searching for a cultural identity, memory and voice of Palestine.

The literary works of Elias Khoury are an absorbing collection of stirring fiction of journey and memory. Presenting the fascinating and ever-fluctuating role of the intellectual during times of political turmoil and civil unrest, Khoury’s novels are stories that explore the often puzzling corners of the human psyche. As an active member and scholar of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Khoury’s research and extensive knowledge became the basis that inspired his distinguished collection of novels articulating the history of modern Palestine. Khoury’s most renowned text, Gate of the Sun, is an heroic matrix of a story using various voices, characters and histories, in searching for a cultural identity, memory and voice of Palestine.

an unfinished business
Gate of the Sun Elias Khoury

Gate of the Sun begins with the introduction of Dr. Khaleel who is treating the comatose Yunis in a Palestinian refugee hospital outside of Beirut. Dr. Khaleel tends to Yunis and rarely leaves his bedside. He spends his shifts at the hospital poignantly recalling Yunis’s life to him. Dr. Khaleel and Yunis are just two of the many characters, stories and voices of Khoury’s novel. The experimental and innovative structure of narration synthesizes fictional personal and public history. Khoury explores the shifting boundaries of language through elliptical uses of narrative and non-linear storytelling to craft a social identity of the people of modern Palestine. The complexities involved in a fusion of politics and literature is the undeniable strength of the text as he recalls 1948’s Nakbah. His political novels flawlessly analyze the terrorizing conditions of displacement while questioning the essential survival impulses of human nature. They have been translated to international acclaim worldwide.

 

Sansal and Khoury alike are aiding in the transformation of contemporary fiction in terms of religious, social and political contexts. Their narratives relentlessly test the boundaries of linguistics and human impulse alike. Prolifically inspired and controversial, Sansal and Khoury will undoubtedly continue to be leading authors of contemporary Middle Eastern fiction.

 

By Lindsay Parnell