The Great Hate Story

Yes, there are a number of Great Love Stories, just as there are many Great American Novels and Middling Self-help Books. But the Great Hate Story? After all, hatred is not the mere shadow of love, but a serious human motivator in its own right. Khaled Khalifa, IPAF-shortlisted in 2009 for his In Praise of Hatred, draws a compelling portrait of hate. From the Egypt Independent (insha’allah a Q&A with translator Leri Price is forthcoming soon):

Love is a subject that has animated great poetry, novels and memoirs for a thousand years and more. Hate has been explored comparatively little.

Khaled al-Khalifa’s “In Praise of Hatred,” shortlisted for the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction and available in English translation in 2012, is powerfully seductive in its exploration of hate. The novel is deceptively straightforward: it is a chronological story told by a young woman who is part of a large Sunni family. Most of the action takes place in the early 1980s, when Islamist Sunnis led an uprising against the primarily Alawi Syrian regime.

The echoes with the current Syrian uprising are many. Translator Leri Price notes in her afterword that she was working on a passage about arrests and interrogations at Aleppo University when she turned on the news to hear of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s purge at the same university.

But the two situations are also, as the author has noted, very different: the current uprising belongs to a much wider swath of people. What remains the same is the nature of human hate.

The novel, which received a warm and fluid translation from Price, focuses primarily on the lives of Aleppan women. The book in some ways represents the coming of age of its nameless adolescent narrator. She is a bright young woman raised in her conservative grandfather’s home, and her uncles and older brother are leaders in the Islamist uprising. She is as clever as any of them, but restrained by her home, her clothes and her ideas; later, she is restrained by the violence all around her, and finally by prison.

The novel crams a large number of characters into each of its narrow spaces, and creates a powerful density that brings late-1970s and 1980s Aleppo to life. The narrative has a number of male characters, but focuses mainly on the lives of women.

In school, the narrator finds a sharp distinction between girls who align themselves with the mukhabarat, or intelligence services, and those who align themselves with the power of an austere Islam. The girls here have limited choices, but they are never mere pawns. Instead, they are agents in a complex landscape. Keep reading on the Egypt Independent.

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