Born on This Day: 6 to Read by Ghalib Halasa

Ghalib Halasa (December 3, 1932– December 17, 1989) was a writer, literary translator, translator, and traveler who died at just fifty-seven in Damascus, Syria:

Halasa was born on this day in 1932 in a small Jordanian village. He remembers, in “Writers Who Taught Me, Writers I Knew,” tr. Yasmeen Hanoosh, that he began his life of writing early, perhaps when he was 10 years old. “I would wake up very early, before the other pupils in the boarding school, and sit down to write my dreams.”

Halasa had all manner of dreams. He was jailed, at various times and under various charges, by the Jordanian, Lebanese, and Egyptian authorities. He lived a peripatetic life: in Beirut as a teenager, and later in Baghdad, Cairo, and Damascus. He’s the author of seven novels and two short story collections, including Laughter (1971), Sandstorms (1975), and Sultana (1988).

This year, his experimental coming-of-age novel Sultana appeared in translation, rebuilt in English by Alex B. Jreisat. This novel — which was one of the Arab Writers Union’s “top 105” of the 20th century — also begins with dreams: “The remnants of dreams usually precede awakening.” And later: “Waking up does not come suddenly, rather it wrestles the attempts to return to the daze. The desires, daydreams, and warmth try to repel the awakening through seduction, but boredom and their repetitive nature make their assault unconvincing. Waking up becomes a social obligation, moments of weakness treated with disdain.”

Halasa remains a legend:

Ali Issa wrote in 2018: “With so much to explore in his 7 novels, dozens of short stories, and scads of genre-crossing nonfiction that feels so relevant to our present day hopes and wars, the door is there, we need simply to walk through it.”


“The Slaves,” tr. Thoraya El Rayyes

An excerpt from Halasa’s 1984 novel Three Faces of Baghdad, tr. Ali Issa

“Writers Who Taught Me, Writers I Knew,” tr. Yasmeen Hanoosh

Although there is no excerpt of Alex B. Jreisat’s translation of Sultana available online, you can read a chapter, tr. Ali Issa.

A Birthday, tr. Issa J. Boullata

“Fear,” translated by Denys Johnson-Davies, is in Under the Naked Sky


Art flowed like life from Ghalib Halasa’s pen

غالب هلسا: بين العواصم والسجون

A short documentary film: