Reading the English version for “Men in the Sun” for Bonus


Reading the English version for "Men in the Sun" for Bonus DEADLINE is 14/04/2012



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men in the sun


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Men in the Sun 





By: Ghassan Kanaafani

Men In The Sun: Stories from Palestine

Men in the Sun is a slight volume of 7 short stories, the longest only 52 pages.  Published in 1999 in an English translation byHilary Kilpatrick,  from the original Palestinian Arabic, the original stories were all written before 1972 when the author, Ghassan Kanafani, was blown up along with his car, in Beirut, Lebanon on his way to work.  So it took some 27 years to get this small part of his writing into the most widely read language in the world, and another 11 years for me to run across it as recommended reading from an Arabic on-line reading group,  Kutub, in Dubai.  Their October book was this one.

The situations described in the stories, as short as Umm Saad, 3 pages, as blackly comic as The Hand In The Grave, 9 pages, or as unforgettable as the title story, Men in the Sun, 52 pages,  still exist.  The excruciating poverty, as in Umm Saad:

“When she knocks on the door and puts her poor belongings down in the hall, I am enveloped in the smell of the camps, in their misery and deep-rooted steadfastness, their poverty and hopes. Again my mouth is filled with the bitterness that I have tasted year after year until it has sickened me.”

…as in The Hand in The Grave.  Nabil announces he is going out early in the morning to take a corpse from a grave.  His father calls upon God to witness his shame at having sent his son to medical school.  Are all the students going grave robbing this morning, he asks:

“Certainly not! A skeleton costs seventy-five lire. Have you got seventy-five lire? That’s why Suhail and I mean to steal, because you can’t give me seventy-five lire and his uncle can’t give it to him either!”

…as in The Men in the Sun.  Three  Palestinians, separately, bargain with “the fat man” to get themselves smuggled into Kuwait where they might find work and send it home to their families.

Assad stood in front of the fat man, the proprietor of the office that undertook to smuggle people from Basra to Kuwait, and burst out: “Fifteen dinars I’ll pay to you. Fine! But after I arrive, not before.”

The man looked at him from under his heavy eyelids, asking stupidly, “Why?”

“Why? Ha? Because the guide you send with us will run away before we get half way there. Fifteen dinars, fine, but not before we arrive.”

… Folding some yellow papers in front of him, the man said reproachfully: “I’m not forcing you to do anything. I’m not forcing you.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that if you don’t like our conditions, you can turn around, take three steps, and find yourself in the road. …

As deeply felt as the poverty — already in 1970– is the despair, the lack of hope.

In The Land of Sad Oranges, an extended family is hustled into the back of a truck as Israel (the Jews) attacks Acre, where the father had long and lovingly cultivated orange trees.  They reach Sidon, and now are officially refugees. The narrator, a young boy, begins to doubt, against his religious schooling,  that God wants people to be happy…

“…we human refugees, sitting on the pavement waiting for a new Fate to bring some solution…”

Pain had begun to undermine the child’s simple mind.”

The tragedy had begun to eat into our very souls..

Or the totally sad sentence written by an unnamed young man to his friend Mustafa, in California:

“I loved Nadia from habit, the same habit that made me love all that generation which had been so brought up on defeat and displacement that it had come to think that a happy life was a kind of social deviation.”

What is most impressive about these slender stories though is that, whatever the author’s political commitments — and they were deep– they do not take over the telling.  They are not “socialist realism” written to a formula to satisfy a party boss or perceived correct militancy.  Poverty and defeat are the setting but they appear briefly in the stories, nosing up here and there, while the lives play out – in the conversation between Umm Saad and the narrator about her son Saad gone missing, in the discovery of a son why his father has said to him since he can remember, “If you were a horse I would kill you.”

The story you won’t be able to forget is Men in the Sun.  It begins in three brief parts, each about one of the three men, each come to find a way to Kuwait; each with his own slender biography and reason for risking the savage heat of the desert.  Each confronts the haggling “fat man” trying to balance how little they can pay against the risks they are taking, and the perceived honesty of the smugglers.   They set out with a driver, outside the fat man’s network who charges them less and seems to be an honest man.  He proposes to take them through two checkpoints inside an empty water tank truck. And then the desert begins.  They get to the first stop, around the bend so they won’t be seen.

“Now the serious part is coming… He climbed lightly up the small iron ladder and set to work on the round cover of the tanks. Marwan thought slowly: “He has strong arms.” They were dripping with sweat, while his shirt was completely soaked and his face appeared daubed in mud.”  The cover opened with a sound like an explosion… Assad… put his head down into the tank for a few minutes, and brought it out again.

“This is hell. It’s on fire.”

In some ways it is a familiar story.  We have read of Mexican workers being smuggled through California,  found in the back of refrigerator trucks.  It is the story of Africans getting to Sweden.  Now we know it is the story of Palestinians as well, desperately crossing the borders that divide the super wealthy from the super poor, trying to feed their families.  Playing dice with the devil to do it.

This story is now regarded as a key fictional text in modern Middle Eastern writing.


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