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Ghassan Kanafani: ما تبقى لكم (All That’s Left to You)

The second of Kanafani’s novellas to be published in English is also really too short to be included here. However, I have included it as little of his has been translated into English. This novella tells the story of three characters – Hamid, his sister, Maryam and her husband, Zakaria. In the introduction, Kanafani tells us that there are two other characters – Time and the Desert. There are three narrators (given different typefaces in the English text) – Hamid, Maryam and the Desert. The action takes place in less than a day but, of course, with flashbacks to fill us in as to what has happened before. The three characters live in Gaza. Hamid and Maryam’s father is dead and their mother has moved to Beirut. At the beginning of the book Zakaria is about to marry Maryam (much against Hamid’s better judgement), primarily because Maryam is pregnant by him. This event so disgusts Hamid that he vows to leave Gaza and cross the desert to go to Jordan, a journey which will not be easy.

Zakaria is not a good man. On one occasion a group of Palestinian youths is rounded up by the Israelis and asked to produce one of their number, called Salim. No-one comes forward, till Zakaria says he knows who Salim is and will tell them. At that point, Salim himself comes forward and is taken away and shot. Understandably, Hamid hates Zakaria for this action and is disgusted by the thought of his marrying his sister. What Hamid does not know and we (and Maryam) only find out when Hamid is in the desert, is that Zakaria is already married with five children. While Hamid is crossing the desert, Zakaria is trying to persuade Maryam to have an abortion and generally abusing her. She is reluctant to have the abortion and realises that her life will be grim from now on, particularly without her protecting brother. Meanwhile Hamid has braved the desert. He comes across an Israeli soldier and captures him but is unsure what to do with him, worrying that a patrol will come along. He tries to speak to him but, of course, the man does not speak Arabic and Hamid does not speak Hebrew. The ending is not happy for any of the three characters.

Kanafani makes much of the time and desert element in his introduction. However, what he does with time is certainly no more than many other writers have done i.e. have different events told at the same time, even though they may not be taking place simultaneously. Similarly the desert as narrator does not really work or, rather, it seems not much more than a normal third person narrator. However, the story is well told and the grim reality of life Gaza and the difficulty of escaping it are clearly shown.

Publishing history

First published 1966 by Dar al-Tali’ah, Beirut
First published in English by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the University of Texas in 1990
Translated by May Jayyusi and Jeremy Reed