copyright MB Qumsiyeh
The Palestinian novelist, short-story writer, and dramatist.Ghassan Kanafani was assassinated by the Israeli mossad July 8, 1972. He was 36 years old. His prolific wrtings to that date testify to a brilliant and sensitive mind whose writings were and still are some of the best on issues of exile and the struggle for self determination.
Ghassan Kanafani's life and career as a writer were closely connected to the situation of the Palestinians, and his intense involvement in Palestinian affairs gave him a unique vantage point. Kanafani's two first novels experimented with language and form, and rank among the most complex in all of Arabic fiction at that time.
Kanafani was born in Acre, Palestine and fled with his family first to Lebanon and then to Syria in the mass exodus that is know to all Palestinians as the Nakba (the catastrophe) of 1947-1949 when 2/3rd of the Palestinians in what became Israel were ethnically cleansed. After finishing his secondary education he studied Arabic literature at the University of Damascus. Kanafani was expelled from the university before receiving a degree. He moved to Kuwait, where he worked as a teacher and journalist, and then Beirut, where he was among other the editor of the paper al-Muharrir. During these years Kanafani's political activities increased.
Kanafani's first novel, Men in the Sun, appeared in 1963. The book was used by the Egyptian director Tawfiq Salin for a film, called al-Makhdu'un (literally "the Duped"). The film was banned in some Arab countries for its criticism of Arab regimes. I saw a faded copy of this in a recent showing in Connecticut Progressive Film Series (received from Arab Film Distributers). This is the story of three Palestinians representing three different generations who attempt to escape the poverty of the camps to find employment in Kuwait. On the arduous trip, their thoughts (and the film) flashes back to their arduos lives and stories. They perish in a water tank at the Iraq Kuwait border. In a haunting schene, they knock continuously on the wall of the tank, crying, "We are here, we are dying, let us out, let us free." The story and the film is not shy about exposing the problems (including corruptions) so familiar to Palestinians living and dying in the diaspora.
In his ambitious and experimental second novel, All That's Left to You (1966), is considered one of the earliest and most successful modernist experiments in Arabic fiction. Kanafani used multiple narrators - two of them, the clock and the desert, were inanimate. The protagonist of the story is a young man named Hamid, who dreams of being reunited with his mother from whom he was separated in 1948, when he fled to Gaza while his mother left for the West Bank. Hamid tries to find her but he becomes lost in the desert, crossing paths with an Israeli soldier. He is forced to eschew his original plan and turn to confront his enemy. Although he dies before locating his mother, he is in death reunited with his lost land, and the very act of confronting his fears constitutes a symbolic victory. The thematic development reflects the change in political climate, and the initiation of the Palestinian armed struggle.
Umm Sad (1969) reflects the situation of the Palestinians following the defeat of the Arab armies in 1967 and the rise of the Palestinian Resistance Movement. One of the central persons in the story is a woman, Umm Sad, whose son joins the resistance movement. Kanafani's last published novel, Aid ila Hayfa (1970) was also written with a direct political message. In these books Kanafani had abandoned interior monologues, flashbacks, and other complex techniques and used straightforward narrative and dialogue.
Kanafani was posthumously awarded the Lotus Prize for Literature by the Conference of Afro-Asian Writers. He left fragments of three novels that were published posthumously. Kanafani wrote also four collections of short stories, literary criticism, plays, and historical expositions. He was also a painter of some standing.
Kanafani after death endures. The Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation continues his legacy.
For further reading: Ghassan Kanafani: A Study of his Novels and Short Stories by Fayha Abdul Hadi (1990); Ghassan Kanafani: The Life of an Palestinian by Stefan Wild (1975); Ghassan Kanafani by A. Kanafani (1973)
Mawt Sarir raqm 12, 1961
Ard al-burtugal al-hazin, 1963
Rijal fi-al-shams, 1963 (Men in the Sun)
Alam laysa lana, 1965
Adab al-muqawamah fi filastin al-muhtalla 1948-1966, 1966
Ma tabaqqa lakum, 1966 (All That's Left to You)
Fi al-Abab al-sahyuni, 1967
al-Adab al-filastinial-muqawin tahta al-ihtilal: 1948-1968, 1968
An al-rijal wa-al-banadiq, 1968
Umm Sad, 1969
A'id ila Hayfa, 1970
al-A ma wa-al-atrash, 1972
Barquq Naysan, 1972
al-Qubba'ah wa-al-nabi, 1973
Thawrat 1936-39 fi filastin, 1974
Jusr ila al-abad, 1978
al-Qamis al-masruq wa-qisas ukhra, 1982
'The Slave Fort' in Arabic Short Stories, 1983 (trans. by Denys Johnson-Davies)
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