Jan. 6, 2015 by Darius
I just read The Kingdom of Strangers by Elias Khoury. The Kingdom of Strangers is many stories wrapped into one slender book. Together, they present a picture of Lebanon shaped by the Lebanese Civil War.
The Kingdom of Strangers isn’t a standard, straightforward narrative. Instead, the prose is rather surreal and borders on stream-of-consciousness at times. It consists of an unnamed narrator reflecting on stories he has heard and people he knows. None of the stories within the story have a clear beginning or end. Probably the most complete story is that of Widad, a supposedly Circassian girl sold as a slave around age 12, who was bought and married by the father of the narrator’s friend. It is a uniquely Middle Eastern love story. There is also the story of Faysal, a Palestinian boy shot with the rest of his family in the Shatila refugee camp massacre, who managed to crawl to the tent where the foreign journalists were staying before dying.
The Kingdom of Strangers is full of New Testament Biblical references, yet also incorporates an aura of folktale straight out of 1001 Nights.
Clocking in at just over 100 pages, The Kingdom of Strangers doesn’t require a very large commitment. Even with some time to reflect, though, I’m still not really sure what to make of it. The Kingdom of Strangers is now out of print, but if you find a copy, try reading the first 20 pages or so. You may find it’s not your taste. Or you may find it oddly compelling.