Raba’i Al Madhoun

Portrait Raba'i Al Madhoun
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Rabai al-Madhoun was born in 1945 in al-Majdal, near Ashkelon, just north of today’s Gaza Strip. During the Palestinian War of 1948, he and his Palestinian family had to leave Ashkelon for Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip. Al-Madhoun went on to study in Cairo and Alexandria, but was thrown out of Egypt in 1970 for his political activism. In this time he was a member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Al-Madhoun’s literary debut, a volume of short stories titled »The Idiot of Khan Younis« (1977), was followed by the autobiographical novel »The Taste of Separation« (2001), which traces the fortunes of a Palestinian family over the course of three generations. His 2009 novel »The Lady from Tel Aviv« received much praise and was short-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2010. The story centers on a Palestinian writer, Walid Dahman, who travels to Gaza to see his mother, family, friends and homeland after almost forty years in exile in London. On the flight to Israel, he meets the Israeli actress Dana Ahova. They strike up a conversation, which brings to light just how deep the chasm is that divides the country both Walid and Dana call home. He uses multiple perspectives to portray certain political realities, and the effects of occupation on those living on both sides of the checkpoint, in an unsentimental manner and with a dark sense of humor. Al-Madhoun’s 2015 novel »Destinies: The Concerto of The Holocaust and The Nakba« is written in four parts, each representing a concerto movement that deals with one subject: the Holocaust, the Nakba, (which means »disaster« and refers to the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland), life in Israel and in exile, and the return to the homeland. The result is a polyphonic tapestry with a rather unique weft. This novel garnered al-Madhoun the Prize for Arabic Fiction (at times referred to as the »Arabic Booker«) in 2016, and also marked the first time a Palestinian writer has received this prestigious award. Indeed, al-Madhoun’s oeuvre distinguishes itself from a large segment of Palestinian literature in that he writes about the fate of his countrymen and women without bitterness or self-pity. Although »Destinies« is a highly political novel, the author also avoids lamenting the Nakba and castigating Israeli crimes exclusively. He places great emphasis on the formal structure of his texts as well as on his prose, which is characterized by terse clarity.

Al-Madhoun is a British citizen and works for »Asharq Al-Awsat«, a leading Arabic-language daily newspaper with headquarters on the Thames. He lives in London.