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The following is an excerpt from Yahya Yakhlif, A Lake Beyond the Wind (New York: Interlink Books, 1999), translated by May Jayyusi and Christopher Tingley reprinted with permission from Interlink Books, Northampton, MA; 1-800-238-LINK. Please visit their Web site at http://www.interlinkbooks.com/

A novel about the impact of the 1948 war on the people living in Samakh, a small town on Lake Tiberias. Yakhlif was born in Samakh in 1944 and has lived as a refugee most of his life. He is the author of several short story collections and three novels. This is the first of his novels to be translated into English. These are the opening pages of Yakhlif's novel:

 

Chapter One: Samakh, the South Shore, 1948

Radi sat in his uncle's shop, behind the plumbline scales. As he waited for his uncle to come back, he sold a few things but mostly he was just bored. People in Samakh didn't really know what to do with themselves. They were waiting -- waiting for the unknown. The whistle of the Haifa-Deraa train didn't sound now. There was nothing to fill the space of the small town except anxiety; nothing, any more, to evoke a sense of security.

His uncle, Abd al-Karim, had started opening old account books again, searching out hopeless or doubtful debts, trying to collect what he could here and there. He didn't go to Tiberias anymore to buy new stock. He'd been there two weeks before but come back in a panic at midday. Tiberias was a powder keg, he said. Ready to explode at any moment.

In the evening the men sat in the shop fronts, stricken with fear by the broadcasts from the Near East station. "You townspeople," said Haj Mahmoud, leader of the fighters in the 1936 rebellion, "had better start digging trenches. There are dark days ahead."

At nightfall the darkness grew blacker still. People started whispering, asking one another what they should do. Then there was silence. Silence and anxiety.

In the evenings the men huddled together at the threshold of the guesthouse, their faces pale, as though pinched by cold. They talked of last year's troubles, and the troubles of the present one -- another cruel year, with a merciless winter; an outpouring of God's wrath, and days filled with bitterness still to come.

Radi joined the group, staying close to his father Haj Hussein, feeling the deep, surging unease of the white-bearded old man as he rolled his homegrown tobacco in the Ottoman paper, licking the edge of the paper, then smoothing it down and lighting it.

Khader al-Zaher made the rounds with glasses of tea. He was a shepherd, and he lived in the stables where the seeds and straw and plowshares were kept, along with various other old odds and ends, and where swallows and lizards and spiders made their home.

Coffee wasn't ground in a mortar anymore. And, since the latest round of troubles, all talk of harvest and the calves to be born in spring had given way to talk of the Jews, who'd started drilling behind the settlement of Degania and blocked the road whenever they felt like it. The men no longer told tales of hyenas and foxes and jackals. All the talk revolved around the coming days, whose terrors would turn the blackest hair white. Even the sparrows sensed the fear and, shunning the wide open spaces, settled on the telephone lines.

A disaster was coming and there was a sense of the earth starting to tremble. Around this time, the time of siesta, the trees and the wind fell silent. Even the waves of the lake were still.

It was like the silence and stillness before an explosion at the stone quarries....

 

 

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