Friday, 9 November 2018

Children Of The Ghetto: My Name Is Adam by Elias Khoury

Children Of The Ghetto: My Name Is Adam by Elias Khoury
First published in Arabic as Awlad al-Ghittu, Ismi Adam by Dar al-adab in Lebanon in 2012. English language translation by Humphrey Davies published by MacLeHose Press in October 2018.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Check for My Name Is Adam in these bookstores:

The Book Depository
Amazon US / Amazon UK

Who is Adam Dannoun?

Until a few months before his death in a fire in his New York apartment - a consequence of smoking in bed - he thought he knew.

But an encounter with Blind Mahmoud, a father figure from his childhood, changed all that. From Mahmoud he learned the terrible truth behind his birth, a truth withheld from him for fifty-seven years by the woman he thought was his mother.

This discovery leads Adam to investigate what exactly happened in 1948 in Palestine in the city of Lydda where he was born: the massacre, the forced march into the wilderness and the corralling of those citizens who did not flee into what the Israeli soldiers and their Palestinian captives came to refer to as the Ghetto.

The stories he collects speak of bravery, ingenuity and resolve in the face of unimaginable hardship. Saved from the flames that claimed him, they are his lasting and crucial testament.

I don't know how to begin to review this intense, dark, complex and emotional novel! I nearly didn't read past the first fifty pages as our egocentric narrator, is incredibly irritating, however he also tells a compelling story and once I found myself swept into this fictionalised account of the Israeli invasion and massacre of Palestinians in the city of Lydda I couldn't look away. I hadn't previously heard of Lydda. My knowledge of Palestine had been limited to a hazy knowledge of British interference there in the early 20th century and then oblique portrayals such as Joss Sheldon's Occupied. I now have a shocking awareness of the inception of post-war Israel and the disturbing similarities between how Jews had been treated across Europe, and how they then treated the Arab population in Palestine.

Khoury has written My Name Is Adam from the perspective of an aging man who was born in or near Lydda a few weeks before the city was invaded. Adam doesn't know his true parentage so aligns himself with a trio of potential fathers, all heroes in one way or another. Interestingly to me he doesn't seem to make any attempt to identify his birth mother, although Manal, the woman who raised him, fulfils the maternal role. Our narrator wants to be a glorified writer, but cannot find a story to tell until he is directed towards the story of Lydda. I could have done without his initial circular waffling on this point and the 'found notebooks' device didn't work for me either as I felt they just added a blurry layer that wasn't needed. I understand including the telling of the story of lovesick poet Waddah Al-Yaman, but all the protestations about not having had an affair with his Korean student were wearying to say the least! This novel isn't an easy read for several reasons. It's ultimate subject matter is horrific - ethnic cleansing and genocide. It also uses the story-within-a-story device for multiple overlapping stories, and neither of the narrators are men with whom I could easily empathise. That said, I still think My Name Is Adam is probably a masterpiece. That it is titled as the first Children Of The Ghetto book intrigues me because I have no idea how Khoury could follow this, but I am determined to read that second novel when it appears!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Elias Khoury / Contemporary fiction / Books from Lebanon


  1. Wow, it must've been a good story if even the unlikeable narrators didn't put you off it!

    1. It's a weird book! The Palestinian story is gripping, but it's swathed in far too much of what I think of as aging-male-storyteller-syndrome. If that dull minutiae was edited out, I think this would have been a much stronger novel!

  2. That sounds like it would be a hard story to read.

    1. Yes! Hard emotionally on the good bits and hard to keep plodding on through the other bits!