Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

White Masks

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

White Masks

Article excerpt

Elias Khoury. White Masks. Translated from Arabic by Maia Tabet Brooklyn, NY: Archipelago Books, 2010. 303 pages. Paper $22.00

Reviewed by Yasmeen Hanoosh

First published in 1981 as Al-Wujüh ai-Bay dhä ', Elias Khoury 's fourth novel only appeared in English in 2010. It is the third of Khoury 's books to be published by Archipelago, following Gate of the Sun (2006) and Yah (2009). Khoury, born in 1948 in Beirut, is the author of nine other novels (Little Mountain, Journey of Little Gandhi, City Gates, Yah, Gate of the Sun, and The Kingdom of Strangers are also available in English translations) and numerous essays, books of criticism, and plays.

Like most of Khoury's other novels, White Masks is a story of storytelling in times of calamity. Published six years after the outset of the tumultuous Lebanese civil war (1975-90), White Mash was the first work of fiction to openly critique the behavior of the political factions during the war. It sets out to expose the criminal face of "heroism" and the poignancy of "martyrdom" through the disjointed tales of civilians and political figures, affluent and impoverished segments of society, victims and perpetrators of civil war crimes.

The main and anonymous narrator who opens and closes the novel is a former student of journalism and travel agent who pursues the ambiguous circumstances of the murder of a civil servant, Khalil Ahmad Jaber, out of boredom. The story of this unsolved murder provides the overarching narrative with its skeletal order, constantly giving way to accounts of other people, deaths, and atrocities. A series of interviews with witnesses, acquaintances, and relatives of Jaber reveal equally horrific crimes and the encompassing societal deterioration in Beirut. …

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