The Image, the Icon, and the Covenant
Sahar Khalifeh; translated by Aida Bamia
5 1/4" x 8" • 264 pages
ISBN 9781566566995 • paperback • $15.00 •
WINNER OF THE NAGUIB MAHFOUZ MEDAL FOR LITERATURE 2006
"The Image, the Icon, and the Covenant is the narrative of loss par excellence. . . . Khalifeh posits the difficult and complex Palestinian question through unconventional characters whose search for existential answers remains outside the bounds of politics: through love and bitterly aborted human relations."
--Naguib Mahfouz Medal Award Committee
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In this award-winning novel, the celebrated Palestinian writer Sahar Khalifeh has penned what is at once a re-casting of the story of the Holy Family, a lyrical ode to Arab Jerusalem, and a call for liberation, not just of a nation but for the individual women and men who inhabit it.
After abandoning his beloved Mariam when she falls pregnant, and escaping her brothers' bullets, Ibrahim abandons his own ideals and dreams of becoming a novelist, opting instead to follow his father's wishes and seek wealth and commercial success abroad. Thirty years later, lonely and disillusioned, Ibrahim returns to Ramallah to retrace the past he tried to leave behind. He sets out on a long and frustrating quest to track down Mariam, which takes him from the West Bank to Israel. Along the way he encounters his son, Michael, a young man with spiritual powers that enable him to see what is unknown and find what has gone missing.
Moving and lyrical, Khalifeh's novel weaves religious and political symbolism into a story of love and loss. At its core is Ibrahim's-the Palestinian's-agonizing but unrelenting search for a home.
Sahar Khalifeh was born in Nablus in 1941 and is the author of eight novels including the bestselling Wild Thorns. She holds a Ph.D. in women's studies and American literature from the University of Iowa. She divides her time between Amman, Jordan and Nablus, Palestine.
Aida Bamia is professor of Arabic language and literature at the University of Florida in Gainesville. She is the translator of The Inheritance by Sahar Khalifeh.
"A delicate and powerful allegory."
"Through both character and place, the author invokes a sacred heritage that remains at once vital and powerful. Khalifeh's literary virtuosity has brought forth a unique work and a welcome addition to the contemporary Arab creative endeavor."
--Dr. Abdel Moneim Tallima
"Her characters are so real you can actually relate to them by mistaking them for someone you know."
--The Daily Star, Jordan
"Sahar Khalifeh is the Virginia Woolf of Palestinian literature."
"A representative voice of Arab literature"
"The one Arab novelist who has written one novel after another to show the inseparability of feminist issues from social and political concern is the Palestinian novelist Sahar Khalifeh, whom I consider the best Arab woman novelist in the twentieth century."
--Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban
"Love proves elusive in this soulful tale of missed connections from Palestinian feminist Khalifeh. Ibrahim is a public school teacher. The 20-year-old Muslim fled his Jerusalem home to avoid an arranged marriage and now lives in an outlying village, where he writes poetry. He first sees Mariam, a Christian, in a churchyard, dressed in black. Almost at once he is in love with her, or perhaps with the idea of love. Ibrahim has led a sheltered life (he never tasted wine until he was invited to a dinner party). Mariam has been sheltered too, by her many brothers in Brazil, where she was raised; now she lives alone with her mother. The two innocents enjoy their first hug in an Armenian convent. Carnal knowledge comes later, in a Jerusalem hostel, but Mariam's pregnancy is nonetheless a big surprise. Ibrahim, a weakling, hides from her and later from her brothers, just arrived from Brazil seeking vengeance. He discovers a new interest, revolutionary politics, on the eve of the Six Day War... Ibrahim roams the world and has three failed, childless marriages, but prospers as a businessman. The ailing 60-year-old returns to the occupied territories in 2000, searching for Mariam in hopes of easing his solitude and spiritual emptiness. He finds their son before he finds her. Michael is a psychic with a large following; he flatly rejects his father, this 'defeated stranger.' Mariam, now a cloistered nun, is an enigmatic presence who offers Ibrahim no solace. Once again the political overtakes the personal, as stones and bullets fly in Jerusalem: The Second Intifada has begun. A novel about character and identity..."
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