Thursday, May 18, 2006

Bab al-Shams in Translation

Riva just bought the English translation of Elias Khoury’s novel Gate of the Sun from She intends to read it this summer. She told her husband that it’s a saga about Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in the late 1940s. Riva grew up with a girl named Mona whose family was from Lebanon; they immigrated to the U.S. to avoid civil war in the 1970s. Today Mona works for the Jerry Springer show in Chicago. She dislikes her job. Mona and Palestinian refugees have nothing in common, but until Gate of the Sun, Mona was Riva’s only real connection to that tiny Middle Eastern country between Syria and Israel. Riva’s husband, Oscar, took up Gate of the Sun and started to read the first page and a half to see if the prose held his interest. Those pages described people running and weeping; loved ones were dead. Oscar stopped reading and said that the Arabic names slowed his reading a bit. Riva left the room and returned to show her husband a piece of paper on which she’d printed a bunch of names of civilians who’d died in Iraq since the U.S. military invasion. Muhammed Summaidai, Yasser Salihee, Abd Alglel Aoda… Riva said, “I read these names every morning with the hope that these souls find Ground Luminosity of enlightenment that is so important in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition.” Her husband gave her a confused look so Riva thought she had to defend herself. “Well, you know, every morning Oprah Winfrey lights a candle and repeats the names of slaves who lived and died on the Southern plantations!” “Isn’t it corny to model your behavior after Oprah Winfrey?” “Please don’t judge, Oscar. Some people seek refuge in Lebanon, some in daytime TV.”

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