23. ilb 06. – 16.09.2023
Portrait Elias Khoury
© ilb

Elias Khoury

in 1948 in Beirut, Lebanon. He studied History and Sociology at the Lebanese University in Beirut and at Paris University.  As a young man, Elias Khoury experienced the Arabic defeat of 1967.  The scene of a new wave of Palestinian refugees lead him to enforced moral and political engagement for justice in Palestine. His experience of the long Lebanese civil war can be traced in his works, which were translated into English, French, Italian, German, Hebrew and Swedish.  Khoury has published ten novels so far.

Today Khoury is the editor of the literary supplement of the renown Beirut newspaper ‘An-Nahar’.  Since the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990 he has defended the idea that this past, and the moral responsabilities arising from it, must not be forgotten.

Elias Khoury was professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and at New York University, and he was the director of the theatre of Beirut.  Now he is the co-director of the Ayloul Festival of Arts in Beirut.  Novelist, playwright, literary critic and journalist, Khoury is an intellectual who believes that the role of intellectuals is to defend moral values such as justice and freedom.

Today, Khoury counts as one of the most significant authors in Lebanon and the Arabic world.  His novel ‘Bab Al-Shams’ was awarded the ‘Palestinian Prize’ in 1998. In the same year, his novel ‘The Kingdom of Strangers’ was translated into German. In 2000, ‘Der Geheimnisvolle Brief’ (Engl: The mysterious Letter) appeared in German.

Khoury is always drawn back to southern Lebanon where his stories originate. Most of his books tell of war, with themes such as emigration, expulsion, alienation, loss of home and identity.  “When I came to the villages in southern Lebanon and became aware of the scent of the earth which was mixed with the smell of repression, suffering and blood, the earth in my hand transformed itself into stories”. This is how the author describes the reasons which moved him to start writing.

Influenced by the classic Arabic narrative tradition, Elias Khoury is an expert of the various poetic influences of modern western literary techniques.  In his texts he has developed his own montage style, for example in the novel ‘Der geheimnisvolle Brief’. Here he leaves the chronology of the story, jumps backwards and forwards in time and so circles the same events from different perspectives. In a fascinating way he connects the personal story of his characters with the political and social happenings in Lebanon so that he not only describes individual life stories but his own persona also becomes a living part of contemporary history.

Sometimes philosophical, sometimes religious or moments taken from the country’s turbulent war history form the starting point for a new approach to a story.  They lead the reader, through the author’s own dry ironic narrative style, into a land full of strange legends.  Elias Khoury lives in Beirut.

© international literature festival berlin


Little Mountain
Manchester, 1989
Übersetzung: Maia Tabet
Gates of the City
University of Minnesota Press
Minneapolis, 1993
Übersetzung: Paula Haydar
Königreich der Fremdlinge
Das Arabische Buch
Berlin, 1998
Übersetzung: Leila Chammaa
Der geheimnisvolle Brief
München, 2000
Übersetzung: Leila Chammaa
Das Tor zur Sonne
Stuttgart, 2004
Übersetzung: Leila Chammaa

Actes Sud
Arles, 2004

Übersetzerin: Leila Chammaa