Elias Khoury

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Elias Khoury
"Europe Meets the Arab World with Elias Khoury and Jocelynne Cesari" at Boston University.jpg
Khoury at Boston University
Born1948 (age 72–73)
EducationPhD in Social History at the University of Paris
Notable work
Gate of The Sun

Elias Khoury (Arabic: إلياس خوري‎; born in 1948) is a Lebanese novelist, and prominent public intellectual.[1] Accordingly, he has published myriad novels related to literary criticism, which have been translated into several foreign languages, including English. Khoury has also written three plays and two screenplays.[2]

Khoury has been an editor of famous Lebanese newspapers. Between 1993 and 2009, he served as an editor of Al-Mulhaq, the weekly cultural supplement of the Lebanese daily newspaper Al-Nahar.[3] He also taught in important universities in the United States, as well as in Arab and European countries.[2]


Early life[edit]

Elias Khoury was born in 1948 into a Greek Orthodox middle-class family in the predominantly Christian Ashrafiyye district of Beirut.

He was a left-handed and never liked being one. At the age of 8, he started enjoying Jurji Zaydan's readings which, later on, taught him more about Islam and his Arabic background. Eventually, Elias stopped reading Zaydan's novels as he considered them ignorant and naive. Accordingly, he switched to reading other writers' published works[1]

Khoury was interested in three types of readings: Classical Arabic Literature, Literary texts associated with modernism, and Russian novels of different writers such as Pushkin and Chekhov.[1]

In 1967, as Lebanese intellectual life became increasingly polarised, with the opposition taking on a radical Arab nationalist and pro-Palestinian hue, 19-year-old 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.[4]


In 1966, he earned his high school diploma after attending al-Ra'i al-Saleh High School in Beirut. He studied History at the Lebanese University and graduated in 1971. In 1972, he received his PhD in Social History at the University of Paris.[2]

Later life[edit]

Elias Khoury is married and has children.[1] He became a successful novelist with numerous published novels. He believes that one should never limit himself as each setback may seem as the end in life. In an interview with Al-Nahar Al-Arabi wal Dowali, "Whenever I write new novels, I start from scratch as if I never wrote before."[3]


Literary career[edit]

In 1972, Khoury joined and became a member of the editorial board of the journal Mawaqif.[2] From 1975 to 1979, Khoury was editor of Shu'un Filastinia (Palestinian Affairs Magazine), collaborating with Mahmoud Darwish. Between 1980 and 1985, Khoury worked as an editor of the series Thakirat Al-Shu'ub published by the Arab Research Foundation in Beirut. From 1981 to 1982, he was editorial director of Al-Karmel Magazine. From 1983 to 1990, he was the editorial director of the cultural section of Al-Safir. Khoury also worked as the technical director of Beirut Theater from 1992 to 1998, and a co-director in September Festival for contemporary arts.[2]

Khoury published his first novel in 1975, An 'ilaqat al-da'ira. It was followed in 1977 by The Little Mountain, set during the Lebanese civil war, a conflict which Khoury initially thought would be 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).

Elias Khoury at Boston University

Gate of the Sun is an epic re-telling of the life of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon since the 1948 Palestinian exodus, which also addresses the ideas of memory, truth, and storytelling. The book was adapted as a film of the same name by Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah (2002).[2]

In an interview by the Israeli mainstream daily Yediot Aharonot, after the publication of the Hebrew translation of Gate of the Sun, Khoury 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."[1]

Khoury's novel, Yalo (2002, and translated into English in 2008 for US publication by American Peter Theroux), depicted a former militiaman accused of crimes during Lebanon's civil war. He described the use of torture in the Lebanese judicial system. The title refers to the name of a Palestinian Arab village that was destroyed and in territory annexed by Israel during the 1967 war. All the inhabitants were expelled and most went to Jordan.[3]

Khoury is known for being a prolific writer, but his novels are not so lengthy, supposedly 110-220 pages. Only Gate of the Sun was an exception, its number of pages was less than the others.[3]

Khoury's novels are notable for their complex approach to political themes and fundamental questions of human behavior. 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, also called Fusha.This use of dialect forms adds to the credibility and immediacy of the narrative voice. While use of dialect in dialogue is relatively common in modern Arabic literature (for example, in the work of Yusuf Idris), Khoury also uses it in the main narrative. This is unusual in contemporary literature and has become part of the narrative technique of his works, and he says in this regard:

"As long as the official, written language is not opened to the spoken language it is a total repression because it means that the spoken, social experience is marginalised."[5]

Europe Meets the Arab World with Elias Khoury and Jocelynne Cesari. At Boston University Photonics Center.

Khoury's works have been translated and published internationally in Catalan, Dutch, English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Portuguese, Norwegian, Spanish, and Swedish.[2]

Academic career[edit]

He has taught at New York University, University of Houston, Berkeley College, The University of Chicago, Columbia University, Georgetown University, the University of Minnesota, and Princeton University in the United States. He also taught at the University of Poitiers in France, the University of London in the U.K, the University of Berlin in Germany, and the University of Zurich in Switzerland. In his home country Lebanon, he taught at the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese American University, and the Lebanese University.[2]

In 2006, Elias Khoury was teaching as a visiting professor for Modern Arabic Literature and Comparative Literature at New York University.[2]

Critical response[edit]

Political activity[edit]

Al-Mulhaq, under Khoury's editorship, became the "tribune of opposition"[2] to controversial aspects of the post-Civil War reconstruction of Beirut led by businessman and politician Rafiq al-Hariri.

Published works[edit]


  • 1975: 'an 'ilaqat al-da'irah (عن علاقات الدائرة)
  • 1977: al-Jabal al-saghir (الجبل الصغير); translated to English, French, and Swedish. 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); translated to English and French. English translation: White Masks (2010, Maia Tabet)
  • 1989: Rihlat Ghandi al-saghir (رحلة غاندي الصغير); translated to French, English, and Italian. English translation: The Journey of Little Gandhi (1994, Paula Haydar)
  • 1990: Akaa wl Rahil (عكا و الرحيل); which was issued in Beirut.
  • 1993: Mamlakat al-ghuraba (مملكة الغرباء); translated to English and German. English translation: The Kingdom of Strangers (1996, Paula Haydar)
  • 1994: Majma' al-Asrar (مجمع الأسرار); translated to German and Hebrew. Hebrew Translation. Hebrew Translation: "Pkaa't shel Sodout" (2017, Maktoob Book Series)
  • 1998: Bab al-Shams (باب الشمس); translated to French, Hebrew, German, English, Swedish, Norwegian, Italian, and Spanish. English translation: Gate of the Sun (2006, Humphrey Davies)
  • 2000: Ra'ihat al-Sabun (رائحة الصابون)
  • 2002: Yalu (يالو); translated to English and Dutch. 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), Prix du roman arabe in 2008 under the French title Comme si elle dormait.
  • 2012: al-Maryia al-maksoura (المرايا المكسورة: سينالكول) English translations: Broken Mirrors: Sinocal (2012, Humphrey Davis)
  • 2016: Awlad Al-Ghetto- Esme Adam (أولاد الغيتو- اسمي آدم); Hebrew translation: "Yalde Ha-getto: Shme Adam" (2018, Maktoob Book Series) ;English translation: My Name is Adam: Children of the Ghetto Volume 1 (2018, Humphrey Davies)[7]
  • 2018: "Awlad Al-Ghetto 2: Najmat Elbaher" (أولاد الغيتو ٢: نجمة البحر); Hebrew translation: "Stella Maris" (2019, Maktoob Book Series).

Story groups

  • (1984) "Al-mubtada' wa'l-khabar", issued in Beirut.
  • 1990: Al-lo'aba al-hakikiya(اللعبة الحقيقية); issued in Beirut.


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


  • 1993: Muthakarat Ayoub
  • 1995: Habs al-Ramel (in collaboration with Rabih Mrouè)
  • 2000: Thalathat Mulsakat (in collaboration with Rabih Mroué)




  1. ^ a b c d Cachia, Pierre; Campbell, Robert B. (July 1998). "A Aʿlām al-adab al-ʿarabī al-muʿaṣir: Siyar wa siyar dhātiyya. English Title Page: Contemporary Arab Writers: Biographies and Autobiographies". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 118 (3): 410. doi:10.2307/606073. ISSN 0003-0279. JSTOR 606073.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Allen, Roger; al-Baze'i, Sa'd (1993). "Thaqafah al-sahra': Dirasah fi adab al-jazirah al-'Arabiyyah al-mu'asir". World Literature Today. 67 (1): 225. doi:10.2307/40149019. ISSN 0196-3570. JSTOR 40149019.
  3. ^ a b c d Danielson, Virginia; Sahhab, Fiktur (1993). "Al-Sub'ah al-Kibar fi al-Musiqa al-'Arabiyah al-Mu'asirah [The Seven Great Ones in Modern Arabic Music]". Yearbook for Traditional Music. 25: 160–161. doi:10.2307/768698. ISSN 0740-1558. JSTOR 768698.
  4. ^ "Interview". Haaretz.
  5. ^ Casey, John (31 October 2019), "The Civil War in Literary Memory", The Cambridge History of the American Civil War, Cambridge University Press, pp. 439–459, doi:10.1017/9781316650721.021, ISBN 978-1-316-65072-1
  6. ^ "A Fake Massacre Serves as Historical Backdrop to a New Palestinian Novel". Retrieved 24 June 2019.
  7. ^ https://www.haaretz.com/life/books/.premium.MAGAZINE-between-the-trauma-of-the-holocaust-and-the-trauma-of-nakba-1.6076181


  1. ^ Archipelagobooks.org
  2. ^ Archipelagobooks.org
  3. ^ Kassir, Samir, Histoire de Beyrouth, Paris, Fayard. ISBN 2-213-02980-6

External links[edit]