Ghassan Kanafani: رجال في الشمس (Men in the Sun)
This is really only a short story but it is written as a novel and is certainly worth reading as such. It tells the story of three Palestinians who, for various reasons, have ended up in Basra and are now trying to get to Kuwait, where they believe that they can get a job and earn money. The first of the three is Abu Qais. Like many other Palestinians, he had been driven out of his village. His wife has a child but the child dies because he can barely afford to feed her, so now, though an old man, he is planning to get to Kuwait to earn money but the smuggler wants fifteen dinars to take him to Kuwait. Assad had recently escaped from Jordan, where he was a wanted man. A smuggler had taken him part of the way and then abandoned him but a stranger had given him a lift. Marwan also cannot afford the fifteen dinars but a stranger – Abul Khaizuran – hears his plight and offers to take him for only five dinars if he will find others to come and he brings along Assad and Abu Qais. Abul Khaizuran has a water tanker that he drives for his employer and can easily sneak through the border, with the only problem that for a few minutes, while they cross the border, the men must hide in the water tank, which will be very hot. Things more or less go all right at the Iraqi border, though the three men are not happy with the six minutes they have to spend in the tank but, at the Kuwaiti border, Abul Khaizuran is unavoidably detained.
While the story does focus on the efforts of the men to get out of Basra to Kuwait, the background to the story is the conflict in their home country. They have been driven out of their villages, seen much violence and, in the case of Abul Khaizuran, been castrated, presumably by the Israelis, though this is not explicitly stated. In all cases, there is a strong feeling that this is a people that has lost everything they had and now struggle desperately just to earn a living. Family members disappear as do opportunities and, ultimately, so do the men, unmourned.
First published 1963 by Dar al-Tali’ah, Beirut
First published in English by American University in Cairo Press 1991
Translated by Hilary Kilpatrick