‘Gate of the Sun,’ by Elias Khoury. Narrated by a peasant doctor talking to a comatose, aging fighter, “Gate of the Sun” relates a swirl of stories: of grandmothers and grandfathers, midwives and children, wives and lovers – the lucky and the hapless, the mad and the hopeful. Employing a strategy that’s an inversion of “A Thousand and One Nights” (whose narrator, Scheherazade, tells stories to save herself), Khalil half believes that these stories are keeping his dying friend Yunes alive. Between November 1947 and October 1950, some 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced to flee their homes as the British departed and the Israelis took control. Disputed and complicated, the refugee problem has been a sticking point in more than five decades of war, terrorism and failed peace talks.
Elias Khoury is one of a handful of contemporary Arab novelists to have gained a measure of Western attention. He is also one of the few to write about the Palestinian experience, albeit from the perspective of an outsider. As a Christian born in Beirut in 1948, at the moment of Israel’s inception, Khoury was too young to know firsthand the events that “Gate of the Sun” encompasses.