Elias Khoury

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For the Israeli lawyer, see Elias Khoury (lawyer).
Elias Khoury at Gothenburg Book Fair 2008

Elias Khoury (Arabic: إلياس خوري‎) (born 12 July 1948) is a Lebanese novelist, playwright, critic and a prominent public intellectual. He has published ten novels, which have been translated into several foreign languages, as well as several works of literary criticism. He has also written three plays. Between 1993 and 2009 he served as editor of Al-Mulhaq, the weekly cultural supplement of the Lebanese daily newspaper Al-Nahar.


Elias Khoury was born into an Greek Orthodox Christian middle-class family in the predominantly Christian Ashrafiyye district of Beirut. In 1967, as Lebanese intellectual life was increasingly becoming polarised, with the opposition taking on a radical Arab nationalist and pro-Palestinian hue, Khoury traveled to Jordan where he visited a Palestinian refugee camp and enlisted in Fatah, the largest resistance organization in the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. He left Jordan after thousands of Palestinians were killed or expelled in the wake of an attempted coup against King Hussein in Black September.[1] He continued his studies in Paris, writing a dissertation on the 1860 Lebanon conflict. After returning to Lebanon, he became a researcher with the Palestine Liberation Organization's research center in Beirut. He took part in the Lebanese civil war that broke out in 1975, and was seriously injured, temporarily losing his eyesight.

Academic and literary career[edit]

Khoury's first major involvement on the Arab literary scene was as a member of the editorial board of the journal Mawaqif, which he joined in 1972. Other members included Adonis, Hisham Sharabi and, somewhat later, Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish. Of this group, Khoury later remarked that it was important, but marginal: "We were neither on the liberal right nor on the classical left. Intellectually speaking, we were very much linked to the Palestinian experience."[1]

From 1975 to 1979 he was editor of Shu'un Filastin (Palestinian affairs), collaborating with Mahmoud Darwish, and from 1981 to 1982 editorial director of Al-Karmel. From 1983 to 1990 he was editorial director of the cultural section of Al-Safir. He has been editor of Al-Mulhaq, the cultural supplement of Al-Nahar, since its reappearance after the end of the civil war.

He has taught in Columbia University, New York, in the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese University, the Lebanese American University and New York University.

Literary career[edit]

Elias Khoury's first novel was An 'ilaqat al-da'ira, published in 1975. It was followed in 1977 by The Little Mountain, set during the Lebanese civil war, which Khoury initially saw as a catalyst for progressive change. Other works include The Journey of Little Gandhi, about a rural immigrant to Beirut who lives through the events of the civil war, and Gate of the Sun, 2000. An epic re-telling of the life of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon since the 1948 Palestinian exodus, Gate of the Sun also addresses the ideas of memory, truth and story-telling.[2] It was made into a film by Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah.

Interviewed for the Israeli mainstream daily Yediot Aharonot after the appearance of the Hebrew translation of the novel, Khouri remarked:

"When I was working on this book, I discovered that the “other” is the mirror of the I. And given that I am writing about half a century of Palestinian experience, it is impossible to read this experience otherwise than in the mirror of the Israeli “other.” Therefore, when I was writing this novel, I put a lot of effort into trying to take apart not only the Palestinian stereotype but also the Israeli stereotype as it appears in Arab literature and especially in the Palestinian literature of Ghassan Kanafani, for example, or even of Emil Habibi. The Israeli is not only the policeman or the occupier, he is the "other," who also has a human experience, and we need to read this experience. Our reading of their experience is a mirror to our reading of the Palestinian experience."[2]

Khoury's novel, Yalo, depicted a former militiaman accused of crimes during the civil war and portrayed the use of torture in the Lebanese judicial system.

Khoury's novels are notable for their complex approach to political themes and fundamental questions of human behaviour. His narrative technique often involves an interior monologue, at times approaching a stream of consciousness. In recent works he has tended to use a considerable element of colloquial Arabic, although the language of his novels remains primarily Modern Standard Arabic, which is also called Fusha. This use of dialect forms adds to the credibility and immediacy of the narratorial voice. While use of dialect in dialogue is relatively common in modern Arabic literature (for example, in the work of Yusuf Idris), Khoury introduces it into the main narrative, an unusual step although one clearly associated with the narrative technique of his works.

Elias Khoury's works have been translated into English, French, German, Hebrew, Portuguese, Italian, Catalan, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish and Dutch.[3][4]

Political activity[edit]

Al-Mulhaq, under Khoury's editorship, became the "tribune of opposition"[3] to controversial aspects of the post-Civil War reconstruction of Beirut led by businessman and politician Rafiq al-Hariri. The destruction of surviving elements of the city's architectural heritage in the Burj area and the old Jewish quarter of Rue Ouadi Abou Jamil aroused particular opposition.

In March 2001 Khoury signed a statement along with 13 other Arab intellectuals (including Mahmoud Darwish, Samir Kassir and Adonis), opposing the holding of a Holocaust denial conference in Beirut, a statement which was praised in the newspaper Le Monde by the Israeli ambassador to France. Khoury responded angrily to the ambassador's remarks, pointing to the Israeli repression of the Palestinian intifada.

Khoury, along with Samir Kassir and other intellectuals and political activists, was involved in the establishment of the Democratic Left Movement.

Published works[edit]


  • (1975) 'an 'ilaqat al-da'irah (عن علاقات الدائرة)
  • (1977) al-Jabal al-saghir (الجبل الصغير); English translation: Little Mountain (1989, Maia Tabet)
  • (1981) Abwab al-madinah (أبواب المدينة); English translation: The Gates of the City (1993, Paula Haydar)
  • (1981) Wujuh al-bayda (الوجوه البيضاء); English translation: White Masks (2010, Maia Tabet)
  • (1989) Rihlat Ghandi al-saghir (رحلة غاندي الصغير); English translation: The Journey of Little Gandhi (1994, Paula Haydar)
  • (1993) Mamlakat al-ghuraba (مملكة الغرباء); English translation: The Kingdom of Strangers (1996, Paula Haydar)
  • (1994) Majma' al-Asrar (مجمع الأسرار)
  • (1998) Bab al-Shams (باب الشمس); English translation: Gate of the Sun (2006, Humphrey Davies)
  • (2000) Ra'ihat al-Sabun (رائحة الصابون)
  • (2002) Yalu (يالو); English translations: Yalo (2008, Peter Theroux), (2009, Humphrey Davies: short-listed for Best Translated Book Award)
  • (2007) Ka-annaha na'imah (كأنها نائمة); English translations: As Though She Were Sleeping (2011, Humphrey Davies), (2012, Marilyn Booth)


Short stories[edit]

  • (1984) Al-mubtada' wa'l-khabar


  • (1979) Dirasat fi naqd al-shi'r
  • (1982) Al-dhakira al-mafquda
  • (1984) Tajribat al-ba'th 'an ufq
  • (1985) Zaman al-ihtilal


  1. ^ Interview in Haaretz newspaper.
  2. ^ Google Books Gate of the Sun: Bab al-Shams]. Translated by Humphrey Davies. Published by Macmillan (2007). ISBN 0-312-42670-4
  3. ^ Poort van de zon - ISBN 978-90-414-1227-0
  4. ^ Jalo - ISBN 90-263-1823-5
  1. ^ Archipelagobooks.org
  2. ^ Archipelagobooks.org
  3. ^ Kassir, Samir, Histoire de Beyrouth, Paris, Fayard. ISBN 2-213-02980-6

External links[edit]