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Elias Khoury's The Journey of Little Gandhi: Fiction and Ideology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 April 2009

Samira Aghacy
Professor at the Lebanese American University, Beirut, Lebanon.


Commenting on his novel Riḥlat Gandhī al-Ṣaghīr (The Journey of Little Gandhi), Elias Khoury has made two conflicting assertions. At a gathering held to discuss the book shortly after it was published, Khoury reaffirmed his political and ideological stance in relation to the war in Lebanon. While acknowledging that Gandhi, the protagonist, is a victim of violence and poverty, Khoury said that he regards war as a necessity, a passage to a higher and nobler aim:

I am not one of those who preach against violence, nor do I claim that I am against the war.

I have participated in the war, and I remain true to my original choice, and loyal to my comrades who died the death of martyrs. I refuse to go along with the popular “anti-war” fad. At the same time, I remain faithful to the truth and the goal for which we started the war: the creation of another more just and democratic society⃜ [U]nfortunately, we have not succeeded, but at least, it is our duty to tell the truth and… what actually happened.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1996

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1 Khoury, Elias, Riḥlat Gandhī al-Ṣaghīr (Beirut: Dār al-Ādāb, 1989)Google Scholar; the English translation of the work by Haydar, Paula is published as The Journey of Little Gandhi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994)Google Scholar.

2 Quoted in the newspaper al-Safīr, 25 07 1989, 10Google Scholar.

3 Al-Nidāʾ, 23 07 1989, 7Google Scholar.

4 See The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin, ed. Holquist, Michael, trans. Emerson, Caryl and Holquist, Michael (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981)Google Scholar.

5 Bakhtin, Mikhail, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, trans. Emerson, Caryl (London and Minneapolis:University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 200201CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Al-Ittiḥāʿ, 22 10 1989, 4Google Scholar.

7 See al-Majdhūb, Ṭalāl Mājid, Taʾrlkh Ṣaydāʾ al-ijtimāʿi (Beirut and Sidon: al-Maktaba al-ʿAṣriyya, 1983), 412–13Google Scholar.

8 See Shahāṭa, Ḥāzim, “Fī al-ḥākī fī al-layālī,” Fuṣūl, (Spring 1994): 6076Google Scholar.

9 The frame narrator addresses the reader directly, but does not participate in the story he tells. See Genette's, Gerard typology in Narrative Discourse, trans. Lewin, J. E. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980), 248Google Scholar.

10 The second narrator who tells her own story and is present inside the story and action. See Genette, , Narrative Discourse, 248Google Scholar.

11 Haydar, , Little Gandhi, 3Google Scholar.

12 Ibid., 56–57.

13 Ibid., 19.

14 Ibid., 62.

15 See McHale, Brian, Postmodernist Fiction (New York and London: Methuen, 1987), 27CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 See Boothe, Wayne, The Rhetoric of Fiction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 320Google Scholar.

17 Haydar, , Little Gandhi, 55Google Scholar.

18 Ibid., 57.

19 Ibid., 55.

20 Ibid., 57.

21 Ibid., 180.

22 Ibid., 55.

23 Ibid., 112.

24 Ibid., 21.

25 Al-Safīr, 25 07 1989, 10Google Scholar.

26 “Al-riwāya wa al-wāqiʿ,” al-Nāqid, no. 26 (08 1990): 38Google Scholar.

27 Haydar, , Little Gandhi, 111Google Scholar.

28 Al-Nidāʿ, 7Google Scholar.

29 Viewing Khoury's novels in the same light, Yumna al-ʿId writes that they have “a liberating tendency in that the narrator/author is marginalized. He is not oppressive and does not dictate to his characters. At the same time, he is not a hero who possesses and monopolizes the truth.” See al-ʿĀlim, Maḥmūd Amīn, al-ʿĪd, Yumnā, and Sulaymān, Nabīl, ed., “Qatl Mafhūm al-baṭal: Manẓūr Fikrī Yakhluq Namaṭ Bunyatihi fī al-qāṣṣ al-ʿarabī al-muʿāṣir,” Al-Riwāya al-ʿArabiyya bayna al wāqiʿ wa al-idiolojiya (Lattakia liʾ-l-nashr waʾl-tawzīʿ: Dār al-Ḥiwār, 1986), 26Google Scholar.

30 Haydar, , Little Gandhi, 2Google Scholar.

32 Ibid., 3.

33 Al-Nidāʾ, 7Google Scholar.

34 “Ḥadāthat al-kitāba, kharāb al-madīna,” al-Ādāb, (0405 1992): 45Google Scholar.

35 Haydar, , Little Gandhi, 51Google Scholar.

36 Ibid., 36.

38 A word is the signifier and the concept or idea it points to is referred to as the signified. See Saussure, Ferdinand de, Course in General Linguistics, trans. Bashin, Wade, ed. Bally, Charles and Secehaye, Albert (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966)Google Scholar. Taking up this point, Derrida asserts that the text should be seen as an endless stream of signifiers, with words only pointing to other words without any final meaning or truth. See Derrida, Jacques, “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” in Writing and Difference, trans. Bass, Alan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978)Google Scholar.

39 Haydar, , Little Gandhi, 81Google Scholar.

40 Ibid., 38–39.

41 Accad, Evelyne writes that Khoury, “belonged to the Communist party, [and] fought for the Palestinians at the beginning of the war,” in Sexuality and War: Literary Masks of the Middle East (New York: New York University Press, 1990), 136Google Scholar.

42 Reported in al-Safīr, 25 07 1989, 10Google Scholar.

43 Ibid., 22 October 1989,4.

44 Haydar, , Little Gandhi, 52Google Scholar.

45 Bakhtin's term for the way in which popular humor subverts official authority. See Holquist, , ed., The Dialogic Imagination, 5583;Google Scholar also, Bakhtin, , Dostoevsky's Poetics, 101–6, 366415Google Scholar.

46 Haydar, Little Gandhi, 45Google Scholar.

47 Ibid., 13.

49 Ibid., 127.

51 See Bakhtin, , Dostoevsky's Poetics, 200Google Scholar.

52 Al-Safīr, , 25 07 1989, 10Google Scholar.

53 Haydar, Little Gandhi, 142Google Scholar.

54 Ibid., 141–42.

55 Ibid., 57.

56 Miller, J. Hillis, “Heart of Darkness Revisited,” in Tropes, Parables and Performatives (Durham, NC.: Duke University Press, 1991), 191Google Scholar.

57 Haydar, Little Gandhi, 10Google Scholar.

58 In the English translation, it is the son who tells Gandhi rather than the opposite: “‘its all over,’ his son said,” (p. 12). See the original Arabic text: Khoury, , Riḥlat Gandhī, 17Google Scholar.

59 Haydar, Little Gandhi, 12Google Scholar.

60 Constituting the main speech of the narrator who generally paraphrases the speeches of other characters rather than quote them verbatim. See Holquist, , ed., The Dialogic Imagination, 262–64Google Scholar.

61 For an interesting discussion of the presentation of character in the contemporary Arabic novel,see Ḥafiz, , “Al-riwāya waʾl-wāqiʿ,” al-Nāqid: 3839Google Scholar.

62 Accad asserts that for many Lebanese writers who lived the war, “writing becomes a necessity, anoutlet and a catharsis. It helps heal the wounds.” See Accad, , Sexuality and War, 6Google Scholar.

63 Haydar, Little Gandhi, 20Google Scholar.

64 In this case, I am using my own translation, which is a more literal version of the original (Khoury, Riḥlat Gandhī, 138Google Scholar). The published translated version (Haydar, , Little Gandhi, 130Google Scholar) reads as follows: “‘Who are you?… You haven't told me.’ ‘I am related to Madame Sabbagha. Her mother is my father's mother's sister’.”

65 The literal translation from Arabic is as follows: “Writer, what a writer, I hope you're not like him” (Haydar, , Little Gandhi, 139Google Scholar).

66 Haydar, Little Gandhi, 131Google Scholar.

67 Ibid., 133.

68 Ibid., 2.

69 See Hutcheon, Linda, Narcissistic Narrative (London: Routledge, 1980; reprint, 1991), 28Google Scholar.

70 Chatman, Seymour, Story and Discourse (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1978), 205Google Scholar.

71 See Currie, Peter, “The Eccentric Self: Anti-Characterization and the Problem of the Subject in American Postmodernist Fiction,” in Contemporary American Fiction, ed. Bradbury, Malcolm and Ro, Sigmund (London: Edward Arnold, 1987), 56Google Scholar.

72 Miller, Hillis, Tropes, Parables and Performatives, 183Google Scholar.

73 Haydar, Little Gandhi, 179–80Google Scholar.

74 Ibid., 91.

75 Ibid., 2

76 I am using my translation, which is a more literal rendering of the original (see Khoury, , Riḥlat Gandhī 97Google Scholar). The published English translation reads as follows: “And Gandhi alone took on the difficult burden of their daughter” (see Haydar, , Little Gandhi, 92Google Scholar).

77 Haydar, Little Gandhi, 94Google Scholar.

78 A term coined by Genette that means “taking up… and giving information that should be left aside” This “excess of information or paralepsis, can consist of an inroad into the consciousness of a character in the course of a narrative.” See Genette, , Narrative Discourse, 197Google Scholar.

79 Suwaydān, Sāmī, “Al-Ḥarb waʾl-naṣṣ: al-Wujūh al-Bayḍāʾ li-Ilyās Khūrī: asʾilat al-qātil waʾlqāṣṣ,” in Abḥāthfī al-naṣṣ al-riwāʾī al-ʿarabi (Beirut: Muʾassassat al-Abḥāth al-ʿArabiyya, 1986), 241Google Scholar.

80 Haydar, Little Gandhi, 55Google Scholar.

81 Ibid., 66.

82 Ibid., 135.

83 Ibid., 56.

84 Ibid., 4.

85 Ibid., 55.

86 See Hutcheon, Linda, A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction (New York and London: Routledge, 1988), 185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar