November 17, 2023
Elias Khoury Stella Maris: a lyrical and melancholic Palestinian epic

Elias Khoury Stella Maris: a lyrical and melancholic Palestinian epic

A review by Sébastien Lapaque for Le Figaro, published in October 2023

In French, Adam is a four-letter first name. In the translation of Elias Khoury’s novel, he is made of flesh and blood, clay and divine breath. Adam. Such is the name of “Stella Maris“‘s main protagonist, born in 1948 in Haifa, the capital of northern Israel, a city located both at the foot and on the slopes of Mount Carmel, which is home to a large community of Palestinian Arabs alongside the Jewish population.

One of the functions of literature is to protect us from one-sided interpretations. In Stella Maris, his tenth novel translated into French since 1987, the Lebanese writer Elias Khoury, born in Beirut in 1948, makes many more voices heard than his role as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Palestinian Studies would suggest (…) Between the Suez affair (1956) and the war of Six days (1967), the resolution of Arabs waging a war of extermination against Israel did not seem to exclude the possibility to open a new path for hope, love and peace.

Stella Maris is considering this possibility from the point of view of the ordinary, small, obscure, people, who, like Adam, are more sensitive to what unites them than to what separates them,
opposes them, and tears them apart. Adam is a boy whose civil status is a little uncertain. Palestinian Arab, his brownish-blond hair is surprisingly fair. (…)
Very funny and very lyrical at once, intelligent and mischievous, Elias Khoury subtly mocks the iron cage of identities. More than an identity with outlines, which are impossible to delimit, it is their loyalty which gives the strength and importance of the characters of Stella Maris – a title which refers to the name of the Carmelite monastery built on the foothills of Mount Carmel, where a large part of the narrative unfolds, also shifting to New York, where Adam seeks a peace that constantly escapes him.

(…) Elias Khoury offers his readers a new opportunity to meditate on how Simone Weil called justice: the “fugitive from the victorious camp”.