Elias Khoury: The Danger

I have been caught up in an Elias Khoury feeding frenzy of late, reading Yalo (Quercus edition), Gate of the Sun, and White Faces (or White Masks, as Maia Tabet has translated it) all at once, and overlapping, and over again.

Yalo is probably his strongest work in English (although Gate of the Sun is strong in a different way, and I’ve yet to read Kingdom of Strangers and The Journey of Little Gandhi). But they’re all worth experiencing, and re-experiencing. I will not give you the Claudia Roth Pierpont reasoning—this is “information” you “need”—but instead the old-fashioned reasoning that beautiful, well-crafted, urgent literature is its own reason.

All this is a danger, of course, because I went on a Dostoevsky- and Tolstoi- and Gogol-a-thon and moved to Russia. I read too much Egyptian literature, and you see what’s happened. My husband had to stop me from reading any more Iraqi fiction, as Basra and Baghdad were beginning to build themselves inside my head.

Although maybe not this cannot be the case with Khoury, as reading him doesn’t exactly make you long for the charm of downtown Beirut—which, at least for an outsider on a week’s vacation, is terribly charming.

More Khoury:  An excerpt of Majma’ al-Asrar (1994) has been translated by Davies and published on Words Without Borders.

WWB also has an excerpt from White Masks, due out in April, as well as one from Gate of the Sun. But go on, excerpts aren’t enough, you have to buy (or rent, or borrow) the books. If you can’t afford all of them, start with Yalo.