Children of the Ghetto: My Name is Adam is my fifth Khoury. Would I recommend this? Perhaps not as a reader’s first Khoury. Would I read another Khoury after this? Absolutely!
In what seems to be a foreword signed by the author, he recounts how the notebooks of Adam Dannoun came into his possession. The entire book is the purported sum of Adam’s scribblings. “This is neither a novel nor a story nor an autobiography. And it isn’t literature,” writes Adam in his notebooks. But of course, through his virtuosity, Khoury turns the non-novel, the non-story, and the non-autobiography into literature.
It is literature that is one of the trickiest webs that he has woven because it challenges Khoury himself as a storyteller. It is soon revealed that Adam claims to have known the characters in Gate of the Sun personally, and he dislikes “the author of the novel Gate of the Sun, standing next to the bald Israeli director, presenting himself as an expert on Palestinian history, and lying.”
Adam, an infant in 1948, named so as the first born of the Ghetto of Lydda. Adam lived through the horrors of the ghetto, the massacre in Lydda, and the Lydda Death March. Before his suspected suicide in New York as an older man, he struggled to write about what befell his people. The notebooks contained his attempts. The whole history of our Nakba is unwritten. Does that mean we don’t have a history? That there was no Nakba? Does that make sense?
It possibly cannot be the unfathomable pain of the Nakba or the senseless violence of the Lebanese Civil War that keeps me coming back to Elias Khoury. It’s probably not the history either, because he is the kind of writer who questions it.
Or maybe it is because he questions history that I keep coming back. Maybe it’s also for the reason that every book I’ve read that’s written by a Lebanese reveals how capricious and adventurous the Lebanese are with form, or with the defiance of form. Maybe I’ve been lucky with the chronology of which I read, and of which the books came to my possession, that instead of being thwarted by this unconventional and sometimes disorienting quality, each book has only heightened the allure for me.
And maybe it is because Khoury, as a writer, urges and trusts the reader to be the one to bring a story to life; a truly Eastern composer of tales who wants to obliterate the author and make his identity of no interest so that literature becomes, like Eastern music, not a fixed composition, but an unfolding.