Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

A Lake beyond the Wind

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

A Lake beyond the Wind

Article excerpt

A Lake Beyond the Wind, by Yahya Yakhlif. Tr. by M. Jayyusi and C. Tingley. New York: Interlink Books, 1999. 215 pages. $12.95.

The idea of al-watan, or the Arab nation, goes like this: before colonialism moved in and dismantled it out of spite, there really was an Arab utopia stretching all the way from Baghdad in the east to Casablanca in the west. This theme is invoked not just by a dictator like Saddam Husayn, but also by some of the Arab world's finest poets (Adonis, Samih al-Qasim, Mahmoud Darwish, Nizar Qabbani) and most accomplished novelists (Ghassan Kanafani, Abdel-Rahman Munif, Mu'nis Razzaz).

Yahya Yakhlif, an emerging Palestinian novelist, appears to have decided, quite rightly, in this novel-his first to be translated into English-not to adhere to this paralyzing orthodoxy. Absent from this narrative are the usual finger pointing at Western conspirators and the terribly disappointing speeches in praise of a collective goal. The year is 1948, and the setting is the author's birthplace, the Palestinian village of Samakh near Lake Tiberias. A Lake Beyond the Wind is this particular village's story. There, tension between the Arabs and the Jews is high; in the end, the entire Arab population of this village become refugees in Jordan. The reader's attention, however, is constantly drawn to another factor that seems to contribute in no small measure to the crisis unfolding: the way despotic Arab regimes try, in the name of nationalism, to exploit the Palestinians without showing the slightest regard for their well being.

In the first two pages, the men keep talking about a "powder keg," "the troubles of the present," "disaster," and "waiting for the unknown." Another clue to the impending war with the Jews comes in the form of a bullet-proof vest the boy Radi has bought from a penniless British soldier for very little money. Everyone is curious about it, but none more so than Ahmad Bey, leader of the so-called Arab Liberation Army. He pays five pounds for it, an exorbitant sum considering that a soldier's monthly stipend is a mere four-and-a-half guineas.

In every respect, Ahmad Bey's language echoes that of Saddam Husayn: doubtless, uncompromising, unforgiving, as well as intolerably bellicose and self-absorbed. Bey's mission, he says, is to "wipe them [the Jews] from the face of the earth" (p. …

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