Ghassan Kanafani

Ghassan Kanafani (1936 – 1972) was born in Acre, Palestine and lived in Jaffa until 1948. Ghassan KanafaniHe was a well-known Palestinian journalist, novelist, dramatist and short story-writer whose writings were rooted in Arab Palestinian culture. Main themes in Ghassan Kanafani’s writings were up rootedness, exile, and the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.  He was forced to leave with his family to Lebanon and later to Syria, in the mass exodus of 1947-1949 (Nakba). They settled in Syria as Palestinian refugees. He studied Arabic literature at the University of Damascus. After he finished university he worked as teacher and journalist. In 1969 he became spokesperson for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the editor-in-chief of its weeklyAl-Hadaf. His first novel, Men in the Sun, appeared in 1963 and his second novel, All That´s Left to you in 1966. He is considered one of the earliest and most successful modernist experiments in Arabic fiction. Many of Ghassan’s literary works have been translated into 17 languages and published in more than 20 different countries.

Men in the Sun is a novel by Ghassan Kanafani (1936–72), originally published in 1962. Men in the Sun follows three Palestinian refugees seeking to travel from the refugee camps in Lebanon, where they cannot find work, to Kuwait where they hope to find work as laborers in the oil boom. The three men each arrange with a clerk at a local store to be smuggled to Kuwait by a driver. The men are treated gruffly and are humiliated by the process. Once they finally arrange for travel, they are forced to ride in the back of the truck across the desert on their way to Kuwait. At several check points, the men hide in a large, empty, water tank in the stifling mid-day heat as the driver arranges paperwork to get through. After going through the last check point, within easy driving distance of the travelers’ ultimate goal of Kuwait, the driver opens the tank to let the men out only to find they have died.

Men in the Sun has been translated into many languages. Its description of the hardships and insecurity of Palestinian refugee life, and its political and psychological subtext (subtly criticizing corruption, political passivity and defeatism within Arab and Palestinian society) had an impact on the Arab cultural and political debate of the time; it also uses modernist narrative structures and storytelling methods.

Men in the Sun has been filmed as al-Makhduun (The Deceived or The Dupes), by Egyptian director Tawfiq Saleh. The film was banned in several Arab countries due to its criticisms of Arab governments.

All That’s Left to You (1966) is considered one of the earliest and most successful modernist experiments in Arabic fiction. Kanafani used multiple narrators  two of them, the clock and the desert, were inanimate. The protagonist of the story is a young man named Hamid. He dreams of being reunited with his mother from whom he was separated in 1948. Hamid had fled to Gaza while his mother left for the West Bank. He tries to find her but becomes lost in the desert, crossing paths with an Israeli soldier. He is forced to eschew his original plan and turn to confront his enemy. Although he dies before locating his mother, he is in death reunited with his lost land. The thematic development reflects the change in political climate, and the initiation of the Palestinian armed struggle.

Returning to Haifa is certainly one of the best works of the Palestinian literary master Ghassan Kanafani. This translation contains, in addition to the title novella, a selection of Kanafani’s short stories relating to children – Palestinian children. Like all other Kanafani works, this book was a tremendous pleasure to read and at the same time intensely thought-provoking. “Returning to Haifa” is perhaps one of his hardest works to translate, thanks to his profligate use of imagery, but the translators do an excellent job rendering the original text into English. As in most of his works, Kanafani experiments frequently with different techniques for telling a story, techniques that were revolutionary during his time (1960s). I particularly enjoy the twists of plot at the end of each story, and how the very last sentence forces me to re-think and re-evaluate my entire understanding of that story. Seeped in the author’s struggle for freedom and for a homeland, these stories reflect a deep understanding of human relationships and the human condition. Yet despite this depth (or perhaps because of it), the main characters tend to always be ordinary human beings – in this book, children from the villages and the refugee camps. A major feature of “Returning to Haifa” is the seamless melding of two narratives, as a Palestinian family expelled from Haifa in 1948 return for the first time to see their former home after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967. The story of the expulsion is juxtaposed seamlessly with the story of their second visit and encounter with the Israelis currently occupying it. But the main contribution of “Returning to Haifa” is its portrayal of those Israelis, whom he shows to be themselves refugees (from the Nazis), and its success in epitomizing their perspective and their logic. It is therefore often described as the first Arabic novel which genuinely portrayed the feelings and emotions on the Israeli side. The other short stories contained in this anthology are no less worthy of praise, each in its own right. Truly, one cannot truly understand what it means to be a Palestinian without reading “Palestine’s Children” or any other of Kanafani’s works.

Umm Sad (1969) reflects the situation of the Palestinians following the defeat of the Arab armies in 1967 and the rise of the Palestinian Resistance Movement. One of the central persons in the story is a woman, Umm Sad, whose son joins the resistance movement. Kanafani’s last published novel, Aid ila Hayfa (1970) was also written with a direct political message. In these books Kanafani had abandoned interior monologues, flashbacks, and other complex techniques and used straightforward narrative and dialogue.

Books: -Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories -Palestine’s Children: Returning to Haifa & Other Stories -Men in the Sun -Ardh al Burtuqal al Hazin: Short Stories in Arabic -Rijal Fil Shams: Riwaya Arabiyya (Arab Literature Series) (Arabic Edition)                       -Returning to Haifa (Arabic Edition) -All That’s Left to You: A Novella and Short Stories (Interlink World Fiction – Rasael Ghassan Kanafani ela Ghada al Samman (Arabic) -Death of Bed No. 12 (Arabic Edition) -Land of Sad Oranges (Arabic Edition) -A Bridge to Eternity (Arabic Edition) -On Zionist Literature (Arabic Edition) -Palestine’s Children – Um Sad

Short Stories

Death of Bed No. 12

Land of Sad Oranges

A World Not Our Own

Of Men and Rifles

The Stolen Shirt



A Bridge to Eternity

The Door

The Hat and the Prophet



Resistance Literature in Occupied Palestine 1948 -1966

Palestinian Literature of Resistance Under Occupation 1948 – 1968

In Zionist Literature |


Further reading:

‘Return to Haifa’ crosses borders of war (

Ghassan’s memories (   – Remembering Ghassan Kanafani through the watch and the Volkswagen (

– Ghassan Kanafani: The Symbol of the Palestinian Tragedy by Rasem Al-Madhoon (




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