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
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....