My name is Adam

My name is Adam

Publication Date: 2016

Publisher: Dar al adab

Country of Publication: Lebanon, Beirut

Pages: 424

Ismi Adam: Awlad al ghetto 1

My name is Adam, the first part of the trilogy “Children of the ghetto”, opens with a preface where Elias Khoury tells how, in New York where he is invited to teach literature, he meets Adam Dannoun. As his student Sarang Lee takes him to her friend’s Israeli restaurant, the “Palm tree”, to eat a falafel sandwich, he is struck by the beauty of the restaurant owner, Adam Dannoun. This man speaks both Hebrew and Arabic fluently. He is a Palestinian and an Israeli citizen from the region of Lydda (Lod). With Adam’s probably none accidental death in a fire, Sarang Lee gives Adam’s notebooks to her teacher. Elias Khoury then sends these to be published in Dar al adab, Beirut Lebanon, without some hesitation.

  The notebooks, and the novel, are Adam’s attempt to write his story. A story that cannot be told, and which Adam tries to tell repeatedly. Adam Dannoun is a man of multiple identities. He is a Palestinian-Israeli who emigrated to New York. A man who adopted Israeliness and the Hebrew language after abandoning who he believes is his mother, Manal. He is also a Palestinian born into Arabic, which only traps him into the silence of the Nakba’s tragedy. “He is at once refugee and writer, survivor and chronicler, historian and one who despairs; who loves and leaves; who is born into death and ends his own recorded life” (Avraham Burg, 2018).

As Manal raises him in the ghetto of Lydda, various men come to play the role of his father. Ma’moun, the clever blind man, got close to his heart. Ma’moun, who had to abandon the young boy when he was around seven, meets him again in New York, years later, and tells him a part of his story that shatters Adam to the bones: Adam’s mother Manal, is not his mother. The newborn Adam was found on the dried-up breasts of his dead mother, left behind by the trail of refugees who were abandoning their city, Lydda. The infant is brought back to Lydda somehow, and into the fenced compound that the conquering Israeli forces built in the heart of the city. This where he spends his childhood.

“He depicts the atmosphere and feelings of the time as if he were there himself, recording everything as it happened: the color of the flies that buzzed around the dead and the stench of the bloated corpses, the taste of the stagnant water, the taste of the oranges rotting in the fields and the smell of fear. As in some of his other books, Khoury gives himself the freedom to roam between his role as narrator and being part of the narrative. He controls his protagonists and they also control him. Sometimes when the tempest of the novel subsides a bit, his own autobiographical foundations are revealed: “I know the narrator of Bab al-Shams (“Gate of the Sun”) personally.” (Avraham Burg, Haaretz, 2018)

“My name is Adam”  is not a novel in the classical sense. “A novel of many false starts” (Tom Zoellner, LARB, 2019), the book dives deep into Adam’s very soul. In Khoury’s words : Adam “was serious about not writing a novel. And he didn’t, in the classical way we think a novel is to be done. The first draft was about [Waddah al Yaman] who died in the box. And then he met with an Israeli filmmaker, and he thought the filmmaker didn’t tell the whole story about a soldier who committed suicide. And then he met with Ma’moun, a blind man, whom he knew when he was a kid. At that moment, he decided writing fiction was meaningless and he had to tell the real story. In figuring it out, he had to put many things together, literary criticism, contemplations, jumping from one subject to another. He was writing in a free way because he never thought it would be published. This structure takes us back to the beginnings of the novel, before the naturalists and the realists and Émile Zola and Flaubert […] And it takes us also to the beginnings to the Arabic novel […] He put memoirs, poems, literary criticism, all these things in one story. So in this sense, it’s an attempt to go beyond the formal structure of the novel. This takes us back to the major book in all literature, which is The Arabian Nights, which are stories, of course. Put together many elements and it opens one narrative to another as if you are putting two mirrors in parallel.”

Translated by Humphrey Davies

I don’t recall ever reading anything about the relationship between anger and writing but my decision to write my own story was a result of rage, a savage rage that overwhelmed my being and that had two, unconnected, causes. One was my meeting with Blind Ma’moun, who took me by surprise with his ambiguous story about my parents which meant nothing to me at first but which began to assume terrifying proportions following the visit

of Israeli director Chaim Zilbermann to the restaurant and his invitation to attend the showing of his film “Intersecting Glances”. There, and this was the second cause of my rage, I witnessed the story of my friend Dalia being torn to pieces, followed by the author of the novel Gate of the Sun standing next to the bald

Israeli director, introducing himself as an expert on the story of Palestine, and lying.

Both of them told lots of lies, and I couldn’t restrain myself from shouting and leaving the cinema, Sarang Lee at my side. She took hold of my arm and led me to the café, but instead of supporting me, she started explaining that I was in the wrong.

It’s true. I was in the wrong, and what I’ve written is a record of my mistakes. I’ve noted here both my rage and my errors. I told myself it was my duty, that I have to end my life with a story. We live to be turned into stories, no more and no less! This is why I wrote so much, only to discover that silence is more eloquent than words and that I want these words to be burnt.


Six days were enough for my life to turn upside down and put paid to the novel that I’d begun writing.

I’d long dreamed of writing a novel. One novel would be enough to say something no-one had ever said before. I’m the son of a story that has no tongue, and I want to be the one to make it speak; when I found the story, and took up residence in Waddah al-Yaman’s coffer, that damned movie came along and expelled me from the coffer of metaphor which I’d hoped would be the grave of my story and the cave from which it could once more shine forth. The scales fell from my eyes and I saw that I was alone, looking for my shadow, which I had lost. My shadow had disappeared and been erased, and it became my task, before  I could write, to find it again, so that I could lean upon it.

The fever was devouring me and I was trying to explain to my young friend, in stumbling English, who I was. I told her everything and watched my life forming into a story before me, and my story was long.  Was she listening to me, or could her eyes not see the story because she couldn’t understand what I was saying? She told me my speech had been slurred and that I’d talked without stopping and would jump from one subject to another, beginning in English, then switching into Arabic or into a mixture of Arabic and Hebrew, and drinking a lot of water. She spoke of tears she’d seen in my eyes and said she’d tried the whole time to calm me down.

Odd. I remember things differently. I remember seeing everything clearly and being amazed at what I saw. I could recall everything. I saw the remnants of the people of Lydda living in a ghetto fenced off with wire by the Israelis, and I smelled death. I even saw before me the words in which my mother recounted to me the story of my birth, as though I were remembering them. I recalled everything, and today I sit down to write what I remembered and saw, convinced that memory is too heavy a burden for any to carry and that forgetfulness was brought into being to liberate us from it. From that moment, the weight of my memory began to exhaust me, and I decided to write it, so that I could forget it.

People think that writing is a cure for forgetfulness and the vessel of memory, but they’re wrong. Writing is the form appropriate to forgetfulness, which is why I’ve decided to review my entire project and, instead of killing memory with metaphor as I tried to through my aborted work on a novel about Waddah al-Yaman, I shall transform it, as I write it, into a corpse made out of words. I am not Waddah al-Yaman, I will not die in the coffer, and my beloved is neither Rawda nor Umm al-Banin. True, I did love two women: the first died and my love for the second died in my heart.

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Archipelago, United States, English, 2019

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My name is Adam