The View from Beyond

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

In: Journal of Arabic Literature

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.

  • 2

    See, for example: Avtar Brah, Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities (London and New York: Routledge, 1996); Stéphane Dufoix, Diasporas, trans. William Rodarmor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008); and Virinder S. Kalra, Raminder Kaur, and John Hutnyk, Diaspora and Hybridity (London and Thousand Oaks, ca: Sage Publications, 2005).

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  • 9

    Ibid., 159.

  • 14

    Stefan G. Meyer, The Experimental Arabic Novel: Postcolonial Literary Modernism in the Levant (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001), 252.

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  • 15

    Fayyaḍ Haybī, al-Shakhṣiyyah al-ghayriyyah fī al-riwāyah al-lubnāniyyah fī ẓill al-ḥarb al-ahliyyah, 1975–1990: Ilyās Khūrī namūdhajān (Amman: Azminah, 2007), 102 and 135.

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  • 17

    Muhsin Jassim al-Musawi, The Postcolonial Arabic Novel: Debating Ambivalence (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2003), 259.

  • 20

    Ilyās Khūrī, Majmaʿ al-asrār (Beirut: Dār al-Ādāb, 1994), 84. All translations from Khūrī’s novel are my own.

  • 22

    Ibid., 150.

  • 23

    Ibid., 151.

  • 24

    Ibid., 159.

  • 25

    Ibid., 37 and 44.

  • 26

    Ibid., 44.

  • 27

    Ibid., 144–145, 160.

  • 30

    Ibid., 181–182, 185, 187.

  • 31

    Ibid., 190, 192.

  • 34

    Ibid., 30.

  • 37

    Ottmar Ette, “Chronicle of a Clash Foretold?: Arab-American Dimensions and Transareal Relations in Gabriel García Márquez and Elias Khoury,” in ArabAmericas: Literary Entanglements of the American Hemisphere and the Arab World, ed. Ottmar Ette and Friederike Pannewick (Frankfurt & Madrid: Vervuert/Iberoamericana, 2006), 244.

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  • 40

    Ibid., 39–40.

  • 41

    Ibid., 26, 39–40, 47.

  • 45

    Ibid., 41.

  • 46

    Ibid., 39.

  • 47

    Ibid., 41 and 42.

  • 48

    Ibid., 52.

  • 49

    Ibid., 193.

  • 52

    Ibid., 189.

  • 54

    Ibid., 26.

  • 55

    Ibid., 30.

  • 56

    Ibid., 144.

  • 58

    Ibid., 25.

  • 59

    Ibid., 26. The only other instance of a form of the word aṣl appearing in the novel relates to Ḥannā’s former line of work, which is referred to as “his original occupation” (Ibid., 134).

  • 60

    Ibid., 15 and 17, respectively.

  • 61

    Ibid., 45, 47, and 191.

  • 68

    Ibid., 44.

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