Kanafani, Ghassan, "Men In the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories" (London: Lynne
Rienner Publishers, 1999), pp.115, cloth, $12.99.
The importance of homeland is a theme that runs throughout this emotional collection of stories, written in a manner that expresses both the fear and pain that the Palestinian people felt after 1948. In "Men In the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories", Kanafani creates "everyman" characters, who easily move the reader through their struggling losses of land, occupation, family members, and comfort. Underlying this theme within Kanafani's stories is strong allegory and symbolism. These characteristics can be clearly examined in the first story of the collection, "Men In the Sun".
Kanafani weaves memory with an intense meta-narrative in "Men In the Sun", through three primary characters that reflect the vulnerability, hardship, and loss of Palestinian refugees. Set in 1958, these characters, a young boy of sixteen, a resistance fighter in his twenties, and an old peasant, all dream of leaving behind their painful past and finding new hope in Kuwait. Their destinies collide when they meet a smuggler who promises a safe journey across the border to a new, happier life. Although his greedy attitude and method of transportation frightens the lot, desperation places the three men in his care. The journey holds a tragic ending for these three "everyman" characters, as their beating fists and hearts are muffled into silence.
The author uses time and symbolism in this story to make strong allegorical connections to the concepts of homeland, nature, manhood, and the political meta-narrative. Throughout the plot, specific words and sights cause the men to"flashback", remembering events that took place during the war of 1948. For the smuggler, Abul Khaizuran, it is the traumatic war injury that led him to the operation that rendered him infertile. This injury coincides with the Palestinian loss, and Khaizuran becomes overcome with greed, as he tries to replace his manhood with money. Equally agonizing memories also follow the three men who try to escape to Kuwait. Abu Qais, the older peasant man, is reminded of the groves of trees he once owned in Palestine, as well as of the death of a friend who he admired in the war. The resistance fighter, Assad, has flashback memories of being betrayed by those he trusted because of money, as well as of the life in chains as a resistance fighter, that he left behind. The youngest of the group, Marwan, is constantly remembering his mother and hungry siblings, who were deserted by his father, and who exist as the primary cause of his trip to Kuwait. The story uses these memory flashbacks, as well as altering perspective, to allow the reader a greater understanding of the economic desperation and motivation towards Kuwait, as well as of the jolting contrast between life before and after the war.
The other six stories that make up the collection reflect an equally emotional reaction of the Palestinian people to the 1948 war, through similar symbolism and sad irony. "The Land of Sad Oranges" portrays a father, once successful and proud, who loses his orange trees and becomes a refugee. As he moves his family to their new and diminished location, this man breaks down to an extremely low point. This story of loss and anger ends with the image of a shriveled orange, symbolism again for the hopes and dreams of the Palestinian people. In the short story, "Umm Saad", Kanafani confronts the life of a mother in a Palestinian refugee camp. In this ironic tale, the mother's son holds the dream of becoming a guerrilla soldier, to fight for returning what was lost to his family. His mother sadly supports this goal, one of the few things that she can provide him, while knowing the risk that he is taking. The last story in the book is entitled "A Letter From Gaza", which concerns a decision that many of the Palestinian people have faced in the past. When a childhood friend encourages a man to find success and money in the United States, the other responds with the story of an innocent young girl who lost her leg due to the conflict. In this emotional story, it is stressed that this child's sacrifice must not be lost, but be a reminder of all which has been lost. Instead of joining the friend in America, the other writer tells him instead to return to Gaza, to learn from the amputated leg, and to learn "what existence is worth". Kanafani ends the collection of stories on this note, one of sadness, yet also one of hope.
"Men In the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories" expresses a clear and successful picture of the emotional distress and suffering of the Palestinian people after 1948. This objective is reached through a combination of flashback memory and allegorical symbolism of loss which underlies the majority of the writings. The author, who was a novelist, journalist, teacher, and Palestinian activist, strongly reflects his own experiences and emotions through these significant stories. During this time of conflict within the region, education and understanding of both sides of the issue is so vital, in terms of the political
and social events of the past. Ghassan Kanafani provides an intense and heartfelt combination of both the social and political aspects, in this collection of stories that are as understandable as they are symbolic and unforgettable.