Gate of the sun

Gate of the sun

Publication Date: 1998

Publisher: Dar al adab

Country of Publication: Lebanon, Beirut

Pages: 528

Bab al shams

Dr Khaleel, more correctly a nurse who had brief medical training in China, now works in the makeshift Galilee hospital in Shatila refugee camp on the outskirts of Beirut: a “temporary doctor, in a temporary hospital, in a temporary country”. When Yunis, a former Palestinian fighter of his father’s generation, is admitted in a coma, Khaleel keeps vigil by his bedside, reminding him of his life story, and recounting those of others, like a Sheherazade seeking to stave off death.

Opening with the death of the camp’s midwife Umm Hassan, the novel weaves the tales of those she knew into an epic retelling of the nakbah, or Palestinian “catastrophe”, of 1948, and the exodus to camps such as Shatila. As a member of the early Palestinian resistance, Yunis would cross and recross the border between Lebanon and Galilee at a time when it was still porous, though dangerous, for both fedayeen and refugees. He would take refuge in a cave in Galilee, Bab El Shams, that gives the novel its title, and be visited there secretly by his wife Naheeleh. As doctor and comatose patient “swap” stories of past passions, the Gate of the Sun becomes a healing space unviolated by occupation and Palestine an entity that resides in the people and their love, not just the land.

The novel moves from Khaleel’s voice to Yunis’s, embracing those of Naheeleh and Shams, Khaleel’s own great love. As Yunis’s life emerges in its “scattered fragments – from Palestine to Lebanon, from Lebanon to Syria, from one prison to another”, the novel traces the meshed histories of Lebanon and Palestine, from the 1930s to the 1990s. Its centre resides in the 1982 massacres in Sabra and Shatila camps, which Khaleel witnessed.

Gate of the Sun is a Palestinian Odyssey and the first magnum opus of the Palestinian saga. Beautifully weaving together haunting stories of survival and loss, love and devastation, memory and dream, Khoury humanizes the complex Palestinian struggle as he brings to life the story of an entire people.

Edward Said   “Elias Khoury . . . is an artist giving voice to rooted exiles and trapped refugees, to dissolving boundaries and changing identities, to radical demands and new languages. From this perspective Khoury’s work bids Mahfouz an inevitable and yet profoundly respectful farewell.”

New York Times Book Review  “An imposingly rich and realistic novel, a genuine masterwork.

The Guardian   “In Gate of the Sun a character dreams of writing a ‘book without a beginning or end…an epic of the Palestinian people,’ based on the stories of every village, and starting from the ‘great expulsion of 1948. Elias Khoury’s monumental novel is in a sense that groundbreaking book.”


Excerpt from Humphrey Davis’ translation.

“We’re here,” said Fawzi.

Her brother got out of the car and held out his hand to help her out. Umm Hassan moved her stout body forward but couldn’t raise her head. She seemed unable to do so, as though her breasts were pulling her down toward the ground. She was bent over and rooted to the spot.

“Come on, Sister.”

Fawzi helped her out of the car. She remained doubled over, then put her hand to her waist and stood upright. He pointed to the house, but she couldn’t see a thing. Her tears flowed silently. She wiped them away with her sleeve and listened to her brother’s explanations while his son played around with the camera.

“They demolished every single house, and built the Beyt ha-Emek settlement – except for the new houses, the ones that were built on the hill.”

Umm Hassan’s house had been one of the new ones up on the hill.

“All the houses were demolished,” said the brother.

“And mine?” murmured Umm Hassan.

“There it is,” he said. They were about twenty meters from the house. The branches of the eucalyptus tree were swaying. But Umm Hassan could see nothing. He took her by the arm and they walked. Then suddenly she saw it all.

“It’s as if no time has passed.”

Of what time was she talking about, Father? Can we find it in the video-cassette tapes that have become our only entertainment? The Shatila camp has turned into Camp Video. The videocassettes circulate among the houses, and people sit around their television sets, they remember and tell stories. They tell stories about what they see, and out of the glimpses of the villages they build villages. Don’t they ever get sick of repeating the same stories? Umm Hassan never slept, and, until her death, she would tell stories, until all the tears had drained from her eyes.


Aschehoug, Norway, Norwegian, 2001

Sindbad, Actes Sud - Le Monde Diplomatique, France, French, 2002

Klett-Cotta, Germany, German, 2004

Einaudi, Italy, Italian, 2004

Harvill Secker, United Kingdom, English, 2005

Leopard, Sweden, Swedish, 2005

Archipelago, United States, English, 2006

Taschenbuch Verlag, Germany, German, 2007

Club Editor, Spain, Spanish, 2007

Picador, United States, English, 2007

Record, Brazil, Portuguese, 2008

Alfaguara, Spain, Spanish, 2009

Kottayam Publishers, India, Malayalam, 2010

Anthos, Netherlands, Dutch, 2010

Nashr-e Ney, Iran, Islamic Republic of, Persian, 2021

Gate of the sun