Men in the Sun (1963) by Ghassan Kanafani is a short novel that follows three Palestinian refugees, Abu Qais, Asad and Marwan, as they attempt to cross from Basra to Kuwait. All three Palestinians had left refugee camps. Abu Qais, an old man, left to improve the lot of his family, Assad, a young man, left hoping to begin his new life, given money by his uncle who is hoping he will return to marry his daughter, and finally, Marwan, a teenager, left after his brother in Kuwait sent him a letter telling him he had gotten married and that the task of sending money for the family had fallen to him. All three of their stories are told in the opening three chapters, set in Basra as they attempt to find a smuggler to take them to Kuwait, with flashbacks to their past in the refugee camps. Marwan finally meets with Abu Khuzairan, a man who promises to smuggle him for ten rather than the fifteen dinars that had bhttps://arabhyphen.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=476&action=editeen demanded from him, if he finds more people who want to cross the border. Marwan brings Aseed, Abu Khuzairan brings Abu Qais. The four then decide on the terms and conditions of the crossing and they find out they will be forced to hide in an water tank at the checkpoints in the stifling heat of noon.
In last check point, the driver is delayed in arranging the paperwork by officials laughing about his supposed relationship with a dancer in Basra, he rushes back and opens the tank to let the men out, already half-suspecting what he finds: three dead bodies. He determines to bury each in his own grave, but when he arrives he is too tired and leaves them by the garbage to let the state deal with them, returning after leaving them to take their money and Marwan’s watch.
The last sentence in the novel is a repeated cry of why: “Why didn’t they bang on the walls?”
The novel is formally experimental in its utilization of stream of consciousness, shifts from the third person to the second as the character addressed himself and flashbacks that open brackets in a scene to insert another scene inside it.
Early on in the novel for examplle, as Abu Qais thinks about Kuwait, wondering what it will be like, his dream metamorphoses into a dream about his olive trees in Palestine:
Kuwait is over there, that place that hadn’t lived in his mind except as a dream, it had to be something that existed materially, of stone and ddust and water and sky…there had to be alleys and street and men and women and children running among trees…no, no, there are no trees there…Saad, his friend who emigrated there and worked as a driver and returned with sacks of money said that there was not one tree…the trees are in your head Abu Qais, in your old tired head Abu Qais..ten trees with crowded branches which gave them olives and goodness every spring…there are no trees in Kuwait, Saad said so and you have to believe him because he knows more than you though he is younger than you…they all know more than you, all of them.
In Asad’s chapter, there are flashbacks embedded in the echoes between words, between his conversation with the man who promises to take him across the border, and the man who had promised to take him but abandoned him on the road.
– I told you I would give you the money when we reach Kuwait!
– You will reach Kuwait!
– I swear to you on my honor that you will reach Kuwait!
– You swear upon your honor? (flashback begins)
– I swear to you on my honor that I will meet up with you! All you have to do is go round that damned area on foot and you will find me waiting for you
After four hours he had reached the road…he stood and stared at the road, he couldn’t see clearly, was it the dust or the sweat? His head was buzzing like a beehive and he screamed with all his might: Abu El-Abd, curse your father, curse your origins! (end flashback)
– What did you say?
– Me? nothing, nothing…when does the journey start?
Later, when Abu Khuzairan is about to swear by his honor, Asad interrupts irritably: “Leave the subject of honor out of it…things go much better when people don’t swear by their honor.”
The novel was made into a film directed by Tawfiq Saleh, with the title Makhdu3un, The Dupes, and the film won several prizes including the Carthage Festival in Tunis. It was also turned into a play, which was banned by Israeli authorities.
In the last week of October 1977, the Israeli occupation authorities banned the performance of a theatrical adaptation of Ghassan Kanafani’s “Men in the Sun”. The play was to be presented in Nazareth by a local theatrical group.
See a short bibliography of secondary literature on Men in the Sun.