Hani al-Rahib

1. Hani al-Rahib

 

Hani al-Rahib (alternate transcription: al-Raheb) was born in 1939 in the coastal Syrian city of Lattakia. He published his first novel The Defeated (1961) while still a student at the University of Damascus, launching his career to early acclaim. The novel won a prestigious literary award from the Lebanese magazine Al-Adab, and al-Rahib was lauded as one of Syria’s leading novelists.

Al-Rahib’s writing is rich with themes of protest and rebellion and sharply critical of the problems he saw in Arab society, among them corruption and lack of social justice. His professional life was marked by confrontations over his political views – he was twice expelled from the Union of Arab Writers, and fired from teaching positions at the University of Damascus and the University of Kuwait on the grounds that he incited students to rebel.

Al-Rahib is the author of eight novels and three collections of short stories, and is considered one of the pioneers of the Syrian novel. He died in 2000 of cancer.

Click here to read an extract from Tribes with Flags by Charles Glass, in which an encounter with Al-Rahib is described. Tribes with Flags is available as an eBook only.

Featured Reading Group Title: الوباء (Al-Waba’ – The Epidemic)

2. The Epidemic

The Epidemic is al-Rahib’s fourth novel, and was listed as one of the best 105 Arabic books of the 20th century by the Arab Writers Union. In 2000, Banipal published an excerpt of The Epidemic translated by Bassam Frangieh in their ninth issue.

The Epidemic is a rich epic of a novel, weighty and ambitious. It spans three generations and covers over one hundred years of modern Syrian history, including historical figures as well as actual people from al-Rahib’s village and social circles. Characters in Al-Rahib’s novel are alienated and marginalized, unable to confront the political powers that have stamped out creativity and freedom of expression. The novel poses unanswered questions about the nature of democracy and the role of the intellectual in society, commenting openly on the government at the time, and laying bare Syria’s social and political struggles.

In his tribute to Al-Rahib published by Banipal, translator Bassam Frangieh writes that Syrian political prisoners received The Epidemic like a bible. Al-Rahib owned a torn copy of the novel that had been sent to him after being passed around a prison, filled with more than a hundred comments and signatures of the inmates.

Special thanks to Banipal for allowing And Other Stories to repost the translation and profile of Al-Rahib.

More Information:

  • The Epidemic features as part of our autumn 2013 Arabic reading group.
  • Bassam Frangieh’s translation of an extract from The Epidemic is available to download and read either on Banipal’s website or here. This translation was originally published in Banipal 9.
  • Banipal also published a profile of al-Rahib by Bassam Frangieh entitled ‘Hani al-Rahib and Writing in the Sands’ in their ninth issue. You can download and read the profile either on Banipal’s website or here.
  • Download Andrew Leber’s translated extract of The Epidemic.
  • You can order the book in Arabic from Neel Wa Furat here.

 

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One Comment

  1. Saf7a wa Nus London Reading Group says:

    The Epidemic:
    – The reading group enjoyed the existential question at the heart of the novel, that deals with the tensions between personal freedom and social coherence. They felt it was a universal theme echoed in much global literature.
    – The way the author deals with time is very enlightening. The way global events impact the local, and the time that passes until that impact is felt. They thought it was an interesting insight into what life was like at the time, and how different it is now, where an event in one part of the world is immediately heard about and understood on the other part, even if the effects aren’t felt for a long time.
    – There was a discussion about how gender dynamics were portrayed within the novel, and specifically the portrayal of women. Was it the author’s own perspective, or is he simply recounting “the ways things were”?
    – The book club enjoyed the story of the village and the sense of ‘encroaching modernity’. Rural-urban linkages and connections, and the clashes between these different worlds.
    – Rich story telling and beautiful language. Though this made it difficult to get through the first 20 pages as the narrative was quite dense, afterwards some people found it difficult to put the book down. The narrative unfolds in a mysterious and complex way, but this works as a metaphor for the lives of the characters and the story of the village itself.
    – People enjoyed the way the author mixed in humour with heartbreak in the plot.
    – A few times people mentioned that it reminded them of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s A Thousand Years of Solitude, so it would appeal to that audience and genre.
    – If this were to be translated, it would be useful to have a family tree at the beginning of the novel to help the reader get acquainted with the large number of characters and the relationships between them.

    Reply

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