cover image In Search of Walid Masoud

In Search of Walid Masoud

Jabra Ibrahim Jabra. Syracuse University Press, $26.95 (296pp) ISBN 978-0-8156-0646-8

In this fiercely partisan jigsaw puzzle of a novel, published in 1978 and translated here for the first time, Jabra explores the Arab intellectual's response to the turmoil in the Middle East in the postcolonial era. The novel begins with the disappearance of writer and activist Walid Masoud. When his deserted car is discovered in the desert in Syria, Masoud's friends, rivals and his many lovers are inspired to reminisce about his commitment to his people. A Christian Palestinian educated for the priesthood in Italy in the '30s and '40s, Walid renounces that life to return to Palestine in the mid-1940s. After the Israelis (called ""Zionists"" by the author) win the 1948 war, establishing Israel and dispossessing thousands of Palestinians who fled their villages, Walid goes to Baghdad and becomes a successful financier. He also pursues a career as a political intellectual through his writing. In the 1967 war, Walid is taken captive by the Israeli Security Service, who torture him, then expel him from Israel. This experience strengthens his loyalty to the fedayeen--the Palestinian guerrilla force--but when his son joins the fedayeen, the son is killed in a clash with Israeli troops. These events are played out against the background of the upper-class intellectual scene in Baghdad. Many affecting passages are narrated by Walid's lovers, like Maryam, a seductive professor and writer. Jabra's characters, like Simone de Beauvoir's set in Paris, or New York intellectuals of the 1950s, thrive on brilliant rationalizations of their own narcissism, while the humanism they affect is doomed to political impotence. Several events represented here are at odds with historical facts, but the author's passion for his homeland is clear. (Sept.)