ghassan kanafani ‘men in the sun’; brilliant writing [not] banned in the uk

Wondering about Kanafani’s book today, I checked yet again to see if it’s in print at all and specifically in the UK.

I was wrong to describe it [earlier] as out of print, since it’s available in the US from Lynne Rienner Publishers here. LRP do have a London office too; the two Kanafani books I link to below are available from their UK distributors here. [I’m correcting my original post which criticised the lack of an equivalent British publisher. Does it matter in our cowardly new world? I think it does actually, yes.]

Men in the Sun [Rijal fi-al-shams [1962/3] was one of the first books by a Palestinian writer I read; entry point, beginning. I admired it first time up but wasn’t able to get a real hold on it or place it in a wider [Palestinian] literature.

I expect that this is a common experience in general, although if Mourid Barghouti‘s classic memoir I Saw Ramallah is a similar entry point for many today -as anecdotal experience suggests- the effect will also differ. MB’s book is more self-contained in this sense, its brilliant opening chapter The Bridge carries the voice of these men in the sun [amongst many others and much else] back home. Readers familiar with both will, I hope, forgive the purposive crudity of such an analogy.

I re-read Men in the Sun recently in a slim and very simply produced Heinemann/Three Continents Press edition [it first arrived in English in American University of Cairo Press, AUC, whose excellent back- and ongoing list is emerging through the wonderful Arabia Books in the UK] I was almost shocked by just how good it is; beautifully spare prose, precise and haunting altogether and, so far as I can tell, very well translated by Hilary Kilpatrick.

So why did I have to rely on the British Library to read it? I ask the question still even though my persisting with it did elicit a link to its blameless distributor in London through its entirely admirable publisher based in Boulder, Colorado. I leave it to you to decide or tell me whether it makes any difference…


Men in the Sun is a classic of modern writing in Arabic and has informed thinking, debate and writing since its publication -a workable definition of a classic, no? It should be in the kind of imprint that keeps works of perennial reference and admiration alive in the UK, like Penguin Modern Classics for example. Instead, it’s reliant on publishing heroism and, frankly, is not as easy as it should be to get your hands on.

Kanafani [1936-1972] was one of the early casualties of a specific Israeli policy of murdering Palestinian intellectuals, political figures, artist, writers, thinkers, anyone who might articulate and organise opposition to ongoing ethnic cleansing -having been a direct victim of it himself [see below]- occupation and dispossession.

Today I read news of something that is obviously directly linked to this policy if not directly linked to the difficulty of reading Kanafani in English.

A researcher at Ben-Gurion University has documented the collection of tens of thousands of books from the homes of Palestinians expelled during the Nakba, half of which were destroyed as a ‘security threat’ by the state of Israel. Given the facts already well documented about the ethnic cleansing of Palestine this is hardly surprising, except that it remains a secret and/or even denied history still today.

The key passage in the piece on Al-jazeera’s site is; “According to the doctoral dissertation, Israeli authorities collected tens of thousands of Arab books in occupied Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, Safed, and other towns that were home to Arabs. Israeli officials proceeded to hand out about half the books, while destroying the second half, characterizing them as a “security threat,” the researcher said.”

This piece is dated 29 January 2010, and goes on to say that the doctoral research was to be submitted a month later. I’d love to update or be updated on this by anyone who knows more or better. Better still I’d love to read the paper…

[UPDATE:

This research was first published or disseminated in the invaluable Jerusalem Quarterly [Winter 2008, no.33 pp 7-20] which published a summary by Gish Amit. Here is a link to that piece.

Here is a pdf: Amit Gish Ownerless Objects Jerusalem Quarterly 33.

Since then a project to film a documentary has taken shape more information [including a partial list of the 6000 books] about this classic exercise in ethnic cleansing can be found at The Great Book Robbery site here.]

I don’t want to force a link between these things but, then again, do I need to?

What I do want is for publishers to disprove any potential link and keep Kanafani’s exquisite, well translated work alive. Indeed, Kanafani’s work is too good for inexact taunts which is why it’s tragic that it often seems as if it’s ‘banned’ in Britain.

INDICATIVE BIBLIO.

A dedicated website -with biog. testimonies, photos and biblio- is here.

A good introductory page on Kanafani here.

A relatively long piece on the book is here.

Kanafani’s own account of being expelled from Akka/Acre is on the invaluable Palestine Remembered site here.

Lynne Reiner Publishers page on GK Men in the Sun here.

Lynne Reiner Publishers page on GK Palestine’s Children; Returning to Haifa and Other Stories here.

UK distributor of LRP Kanafani’s titles, Eurospan, here.

Interlink’s page on GK’s All That’s Left to You here.

I’m posting this account of the murder of GK and his niece written by his wife Anni and quoted from the dedicated site above:

The story of Ghassan Kanafani
On the morning of the assassination we all sat longer than usual drinking our Turkish coffee on the balcony. As always Ghassan had many things to talk about, and we were always ready to listen. That morning he was telling us about his comrades in the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and then him and his sister Fayzeh began to talk about their childhood in Palestine…Before leaving for his office, he fixed the electric train for our son Fayez and his two cousins. The three of them were playing inside the house that morning. Lames, Ghassan’s niece, was to go down-town with her uncle for the first time since she had arrived from Kuwait with her mother and brothers one week before; she was going to visit her cousins in Beirut – she never got there. Two minutes after Ghassan and Lamees had kissed us good-bye there was a dreadful explosion. 

All the windows in the house were blown out. I ran down, only to find the burning remains of our small car. We found Lamees a few meters away, Ghassan wasn’t there. I called his name – then I discovered his left leg. I stood paralyzed, while Fayez knocked his head against the wall and our daughter Laila cried again and again: ‘Baba, Baba…’

Still I had a small hope that maybe he was only seriously injured… They found him in the valley beside our house and took him away – I had no chance to see him again.

Usamah sat beside the body of his dead sister, telling her, ‘Don’t worry, Lamees, you’ll be all right and you’ll teach me English again, like before…’

In the evening our little Laila told me: ‘Mama, I asked Baba to take me in the car and buy chocolate, but he was busy and gave me a bar he had in his pocket. Then he kissed me and told me to go home. I sat on the steps of our house to eat the chocolate, and then there was a big bang. But Mama, it wasn’t his fault – the Israelis put the bomb in Baba’s car.

Anni Kanafani

11 thoughts on “ghassan kanafani ‘men in the sun’; brilliant writing [not] banned in the uk

    1. Yes of course; thanks for asking and for your interest in the first place. If you’re staying online then a link back is just fine. If going offline -quoting, biblio, etc.- then I’d say an accreditation by name alongwith a link -as seems common- would be appreciated. Many thanks again. gma.

  1. Alia…

    […]ghassan kanafani ‘men in the sun’; brilliant writing [not] banned in the uk « notes from a fruit store[…]…

  2. I read that Ghassan Kanafani’s entire collection (in Arabic) will be re-published by a publishing house called Rimal Publications, its owned by a Palestinian family based in Cyprus. I am looking forward to seeing the new edition of the collection, I think it comes out in November. You can see their website, http://www.rimalbooks.com, quite interesting titles.

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