Book reveiw from Al Jadid, Vol. 2, No. 7, May 1996

A Beggar at Damascus Gate: A War Between Emotions and Politics

A Beggar at Damascus Gate
by Yasmin Zahran
Published by The Post Apollo Press
157 pages, $12.95
ISBN: 0-942996-24-0

Reviewed by [anonymous]

We all need a little place to call home, a little piece of world to which we belong. The realization for some people that it is not possible to return home is one of sorrow. Reading The Beggar at Damascus Gate by Yasmin Zahran brings to the forefront that poignant struggle facing many Palestinians. It is a book that makes one think about home, loss, and the just cause.

On a cold windy night in an almost abandoned hotel near Petra, a university professor discovers several journals, written by two lovers, which forever change his life. As he delves deeper into the notebooks, which describe the love, suspicions, and eventual demise of the couple, he decides to edit the books into one manuscript and tell their story. Thus begins A Beggar at Damascus Gate, a fictional novel depicting a woman living in exile in France, the pain caused by her separation from her homeland of Palestine, and her lover, a British man who is possibly a spy.

Basically told in first person, the book features an interesting narrative structure. The main narrator, the professor, edits the journals drafted by the two people into one story, therefore there are three separate reporters of the tale: the professor; the Palestinian woman, Rayya; and the British man, Alex. This structure allows the reader to know the inner thoughts of the three protagonists.

The story describes the passions, emotions, and suspicions between Rayya and Alex. However, the book is really about Palestine. Rayya's anguish over the loss of her homeland hangs over her relationship and over her life. The question and pain of Palestine flow from every word of this book.

Rayya is an activist for the Palestinian cause, which causes her to be suspicious. When she discovers that Alex speaks Arabic she suspects betrayal, believing him to be a spy. At times, perhaps out of a sense of self-preservation, they both try to separate from each other, but the intensity of their emotions continues to draw them together. However, Rayya's suspicions eventually lead to Alex's death.

The professor who discovers their works spends years putting together the manuscript, and he becomes entranced by the writings of the mysterious Rayya. He attempts to find her so as to return the books, and eventually succeeds. He discovers her in Jerusalem, working for her cause, and he learns valuable insights regarding Palestine.

A Beggar at Damascus Gate is an engrossing novel. The reader is drawn into the relationship between Rayya and Alex and the question of Palestine, which hangs over them. The author, Yasmin Zahran, creates a work of intrigue, passion, suspicion, and sadness. She eloquently draws attention to pain caused by the loss of Palestine, and the rootlessness that evolves from this loss. It's as if Rayya is not at home anywhere in the world, even in her true home, for Palestine is not yet free.



Created 960831 - Last modified: Sun Sep 14 19:18:31 2008