I still feel mesmerized by this meeting. This is the first thing that comes to my mind. How blessed I am.
It also feels kind of weird, the whole feeling of being blessed is a bit of not a familiar feeling. So many windows of blossoming blessing have been opening to me lately.
I have spent the last few weeks mesmerized by reading the renowned novelist new book “My name is Adam- sons of the Ghetto.” It is one of those books that I am reading with so much passion and eagerness from one side, and somehow I am afraid to finish. A real masterpiece by all definitions.
Sometimes it happens that you fall into such a masterpiece especially after some not very best choices of a sequence of reads, which makes it even more valuable, and you might think this is why it is capturing your attention.
This started as the case with this novel, I had some bad luck with recent reads, and to disconnect from the judgment. As a result, I left the book for some time.
I usually, of course, start my journey of a good read becoming part of the novel, either alongside the writer or within the character and become an integral component of the story.
Adam is one story that strikes you as a reader from the very first instant. You start with the writer’s introduction and stop. Eloquence is not the only case here. A writer in the size of Khoury has reached that far. But still, yes, rhetoric cannot be just passed by. But then there is this kind of internal dialogue that starts from word one. You feel you entered hand in hand in the book with Khoury accompanying you. Or Khoury the writer himself is part of the story.
The introduction makes you stop and reread. Thinking there is a great secret awaiting you to uncover the very next page? And so it is.
You cannot but ask and keep wondering, who is Adam? Is he real or is he Khoury’s invention. The way events connect from previous work of Khoury Gate of the Sun. It is striking how it puts the reader into those questions. “What the hell is going on” I kept humming to myself each time.
Before entering into the story of Adam himself, the main character. The book takes us to Adam’s fascination or dream of writing a book that was never written. An ancient Umayyad poet whose story was more important than his poems, as he faced a dark end inside a wooden box in the Caliph’s Court captures him. The question of: Why didn’t he knock on the table?” takes us intelligently by the writer to Ghassan Kanafani, the legendary Palestinian novelist in his work “the sons of the sun” and the masterpiece of closure “ why didn’t they knock on the tank”?
Khoury’s question throughout the novel is somehow else. He will strike us his readers consistently with the question: “ Why didn’t they leave?” relating to the Palestinians who stayed in the Lid Ghetto.
The word Ghetto was new to me in the terminology of the history of the Nakba. At the first instant, I was thinking the writer was making an absolute comparison or resemblance between the Nakba and the haul cost, which he assured me he did not. However, tragedies carry the same implications, he emphasized. It does not matter how big the size of the murders. It implies tragedies with pain that is hard or impossible to redeem.
Khoury believes that the Holocaust is the worse tragedy that took place and wipes Jews in Europe. Israel, as a result, was the payoff from Europe to their crimes, whereas, we Palestinians paid the price.
Entering the memories of Adam is by itself an extraordinary journey. As I am trying to put together, I feel this mesmerized feeling of being part of it all again…. Discussing this life with Khoury made it all feel so unreal. …And at the same time so uniquely individual…. Rich…
Adam is a man born to a dead woman under an olive tree on the outskirts of Lid, one of the Palestinian many or probably most cities that were transferred into Ghettos in 1948. The term Ghetto was the time the Israeli army called the seized locked areas upon the occupation of 1948. It is not a resemblance or even an attempt to make the reader see it from a different perspective. But for me as a reader, I could only see this. I could not but see the great resemblance. Flashes from the novel keep stopping me in front of the moment of Adam who was raised by Manal thinking she was his mother only to know the truth many years later, that she found him under the tree and named him Adam, the first Ghetto child, the son of her martyr husband, Hasan.
Manal… some icon of a woman…slipping throughout this novel. “ I am in love with this woman” Khoury laughs and tell me. She is gorgeous, he insists. “ Her stupid husband leaves her as a sixteen-year-old and go to fight. And later she marries that bastard of a man. This woman deserved a great life. I wish I have known her.”
We entered together into the world of the characters. Discussing events and details. Our feelings towards them. At some point things became so mixed up, we both were relating to things as real. They are real… I thought.
Adam…. Who grew up later to decide to integrate into the Israeli society and became Adam, the son of the Ghetto. This time the ghetto meant was the Auschwitz ghetto in Poland. When asked where he was from by Israeli colleagues at the college he would say: from the ghetto. He grew up in Lid. Knowing no name for his town but the ghetto. The Israeli on the other end would quickly sympathize with him believing that he meant that e is a son of a ghetto survivor. The fact that Adam carried his name and blond, fair looks made him easily fit in the other ghetto perspective.
There is the journey of Adam and his lover Dalia… who was Israeli? The confrontations there are so humanistic and convincing. Like many stories that go untold. Somehow, Adam’s story with Dalia awakens at some point his identity of being a Palestinian. She is the woman who holds him out to his spiritual path of liberation… perhaps.
As the memory of Adam takes us into specific details of those months and years. An incredibly powerful scene after a scene is described in such a sense; you would only see yourself in the middle of the setup of all. You will smell the blood of the dead corpses. You will see the rotten bodies lying on the sides of the street. You will be taking the journey of the group of men to the gardens to find water in an attempt to provide the thirsty population with water. The humiliation. The killing. The hunger. The devastation. The persistence to live despite the roaming strikes of death everywhere. And they did not leave….
Images of stolen land. Flashes of a homeland that in an instant becomes to others. Military rule. Coercion… separation … degradation.
And amid all flashes of happiness or let’s say life passes by. Elia and his bride. That scene of the young woman dancing crazy with her starving infant in the yard, and later the dance of this woman as a wife, brings in an amazing reflection of how pain can sometimes be redeemed with instances of happiness…. Persistence to life.
“The Nakba is an ongoing tragedy,” Khoury emphasizes. “The Palestinians have made a crucial mistake in identifying the Nakba. The Palestinian Nakba didn’t take place in 1948. It started in 1948 and is still ongoing.”
As we occasionally stepped out of the pages of Adam, with me resorting to the fact that it is no longer important if Adam was his creation or he was real… Adam became Elia Khoury’s companion and will remain for some time in his next book as well. “I think I will die before him.” He says with a sweet laughter. “ This Adam is exceptional.”
As I am putting this down in words, I cannot but be thankful for this great opportunity to have this chance of a discussion with Elias Khoury.
We spent around three hours with a discussion that was mixed with unyielding emotions on the Arab reality. The pain. The very deep pain of Syria. His anger from dictatorships that define our lives as populations. Whether Ba’th or Da’esh he does not find any difference. Systems that are no based on democracy cannot be the solution. The only advice he has is that of “Younis” from the “Gate of the Sun”: “ We need to start over from the very beginning to proceed.” We need to be a nation who believes in the future, not in the past. All the Arab systems are based on the past. The “Ba’th” means resurrection. There is no difference in the message. It is no wonder that the militants in Saddam Hussein’s army lead Da’esh and others efficiently. Because the mentality is the same. It is based on dictatorship and non-existence of people. It is about obedience and fellowship to the leader. The one and only.
Adam remains the hope that somehow, Elias Khoury holds… or so I analyze… or allow myself to investigate after this journey.
Adam is a journey inside each of us, his fears. His confusion. His redemption and his very deep pain …
Adam. Is a novel that will be legendary … a novel that is stronger than any history book? Any narrative… a story of human race….
Adam….A real Masterpiece