Yahya Yakhlif was born in Samakh in 1944 and has lived as a refugee for most of his life. He is the author of several short story collections and three novels. This is the first of his novels to be translated into English.
Sad, detailed and enlightening, this Palestinian writer's first
work to appear in English covers events in the lakeside village of
Samakh during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Yakhlif's chronicle
(published in Arabic in 1991), opens by evoking prewar village
life, exploring Samakh's terrain and its residents' daily routines
on the day a British soldier offers to sell a bulletproof vest to
young Radi while his uncle is away from the shop. The vest and its
eventual wearer, Najib, soon go off to war, where an Iraqi poet in
Najib's battalion takes over the narrative; the poet tells of yet
another soldier and his struggle to win the heart of his hometown
love. Yakhlif switches points of view frequently (at one point, he
entrusts his story to Radi's dog); he aims less to build a plot
than to depict, via anecdote and description, a Palestinian village
as war destroys it and drives its inhabitants into exile. The very
readable English of translators Jayyusi and Tingley evokes
sometimes Hemingway, sometimes folktales; its simplicity plays
against Yakhlif's bounty of facts. Like the Palestinians' real-life
history, this book lacks a satisfying ending: will the soldier find
his beloved, the poet get home, or the people of Samakh ever
reunite? Yakhlif's meticulous picture of mid-century Palestine
(down to lists of fish and plants) helps him evoke the distress of
the events Palestinians still call "the disaster"; if Yakhlif's
most sympathetic Anglophone readers may still find his plot
diffuse, or undramatic, his skilled depictions will more than
compensate. (June) FYI: This book is part of the Emerging Voices
series: international fiction from writers who are known in their
homelands but not abroad.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
A Lake Beyond The Wind ($12.95 paperback original; Jun. 1; 160 pp.; 1-56656-301-1): This absorbingly detailed realistic novel its veteran Palestinian author's first to reach English translationoffers in impressively compact form a panorama of the diaspora his country experienced during the watershed year of 1948, when Zionist military forces defeated a (hastily assembled) Arab Liberation Army. Yakhlif focuses on the village of Samakh, deftly juxtaposing accounts of rudimentary military ``training and reconnaissance'' (especially as recounted in the journal kept by an Iraqi mercenary soldier) with vignettes of village life dominated by ingenious symbolic foreshadowing (a cow bitten by a rabid dog; ``two rams butting one another with their heads''). A fine, bitter, bracing work, distinguished by precise construction and resonant understatement. -- Copyright (c)1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.