The View from Beyond

Diaspora and Intertextuality in Ilyās Khūrī’s Majmaʿ al-asrār

In: Journal of Arabic Literature
Christina Civantos University of Miami

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Ilyās Khūrī’s 1994 novel Majmaʿ al-asrār builds a fictional world around a letter “sent” by the Nasar family that has settled in Colombia in Gabriel García Márquez’s Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold), to cousins who remained in Lebanon. The tale that Khūrī spins around this phantom letter refracts the émigré experience through the perspective of one who stayed, using intertextuality and metanarrative to treat issues of migration and estrangement. Within Lebanese narrative fiction, given the country’s high number of émigrés and transnationals, there is a concentration of texts written by authors who have not (yet) emigrated but that portray an émigré community and/or the community left behind that lives with the absence of its émigrés. Such texts can be understood as part of a broader category termed “Migration Literature,” a category defined by the themes of the texts rather than the geographic location or language of expression of the author. As Khūrī’s novel plays with shifts in perspective via intertextuality and a structure that highlights metanarrativity, it provides a shift in perspective on the émigré experience. I argue that through this shift Khūrī destabilizes one of the cornerstones of traditional representations of the mahjar experience, telling the émigré story from the other side and through intertextual relationships. Through García Márquez’s Crónica and Imrūʾ al-Qays’ muʿallaqah, among other texts, Khūrī’s novel deconstructs the concept of pure, stable origins that is central to discourses of immigrant nostalgia.

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