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The Crane

The Crane

Halim Barakat
Bassam Frangieh
Roger Allen
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    The Crane
    Book Description:

    In The Crane, the renowned Syro-Lebanese author and sociologist Halim Barakat creates a narrator who looks back wistfully on a childhood in a small village of Syria, with the image of flying cranes—and in particular one wounded bird—as a continuing symbol of his emotions toward the past and its impact upon his life. The narrator then travels to the United States, and, with his wife, goes through the experiences of American college life in the 1960s. He describes his participation in the political protests during that fraught decade, and goes on to depict his later life in the American capital of Washington DC and its surroundings. The link between narrator and author is clearly a close one, and yet the careful way in which the narrative’s sequence is constructed allows the reader to invoke the world of the imagination in interpreting this nostalgic account of a Middle Eastern childhood and its international aftermath.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-157-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-2)
  3. Death of the Crane
    (pp. 3-5)

    Suddenly in the Kafrun sky a flock of cranes appeared, creating a tremendous commotion. Proudly they soared, harbingers of autumn after a long, hot summer and seasons rich with grape, fig, and pomegranate.

    We ran barefoot, watching them intently, fascinated by their flight patterns, their huge wings and long necks. On they came, flock after flock in awesome procession, their formations drawing black lines in the space between the clear blue sky and the trees reflected in the river.

    Right at the front was a V-shaped flock led by an enormous crane; from it two lines branched out on either...

  4. The Old Shaykh
    (pp. 6-7)

    My mother holds Mona’s hand gently. Mona was born in America and does not know any Arabic. My mother smoothes Mona’s little palm in her own as she sings:

    Soft, O how soft, are your hands, O Mona;

    How lovely and soft they are.

    Mona enjoys this delightful game. She stares at us, demanding an explanation of my mother’s rhymes. My mother points to the middle of the child’s palm and rubs her fingers over the crisscross lines:

    “Here’s a water fountain where a bird comes to drink.”

    She holds the child’s fingers one by one, beginning with the index...

  5. Changing into a Tree Trunk
    (pp. 8-15)

    Dear crane, I have yet to learn your language. I have not learned it from your screams, but maybe I will from your silence, your broken wing, and your feathers floating through the air. I cannot understand your enigmatic language, but I still think I know you. A long time ago you were born in my dreams and were shot down in my nightmares; I have often heard you speaking in the languages of anguish, hunger, and lust. You left me to ponder your death in my eternal loneliness. Yes, I am that child from Kafrun, companion of springs, pomegranates,...

  6. A Journey on a Flying Carpet over a Thickly Colored Forest
    (pp. 16-19)

    After a hot summer, Washington had been transformed into a dense forest of brilliant, undulating, blending colors. It was a wonderful autumn day, just like the one when I had watched the crane plunge to the ground in Kafrun. Instead of using the time to take a vacation with my beloved and wash away all the anxieties that were pent up inside us like a black cloud, I was going away on a trip to take part in a conference.

    I called an airline reservation office several times before a tired woman’s voice answered, “This is Kathy, can I help...

  7. The Labyrinth of the System
    (pp. 20-25)

    The doors of the airplane were being closed, so I fastened my seatbelt and slumped in my seat. After a prolonged period of turmoil and anticipation I could relax a bit. I was especially pleased the airplane was leaving on time, so I would not miss my flight from New York to Madrid and then to Casablanca, where I was going to participate in a conference that had already begun.

    The airplane rolled slowly down the runway, but before long it moved to one side and came to a stop. When passengers started asking questions, the captain tersely explained that...

  8. The Colorful City
    (pp. 26-32)

    As the storm came to an end, once again the sun’s rays bathed the colorful foliage in their fervent embrace. Trees swayed and intertwined, exulting in themselves and the entire world.

    But the storm that was raging inside me had not yet subsided. At that very moment my brother arrived unexpectedly. He suggested that we go out and he would stay with our sick mother. We accepted his offer without the slightest hesitation. As we strolled along the bank of the Potomac River in Washington, for some reason I found myself recalling the day we had flown from Beirut to...

  9. The Immolation
    (pp. 33-39)

    I stare in fascination at the black elevator operator at the George Washington monument without paying the slightest attention to what she is saying. She automatically repeats the height of the monument (something I do not even register, as it does not interest me) and informs us that it is the largest stone monument in the world. I think of interrupting her routine and suggesting that from Capitol Hill the Mall looks like a huge man (like one of the fantastic creatures in the tales ofA Thousand and One Nights) sprawled on his back with his member rising erect...

  10. The Atmosphere of Sadness
    (pp. 40-50)

    Were my beloved to speak, she would tell this tourist about the routine life we lead. But she would be able to assure the woman that, in spite of a life of perpetual travel, she never feels lonely. As a child my beloved and her family moved from Aitha al-Fukhar village in the Beqaa Valley to Beirut, where they lived in an apartment facing Mount Sanin. The family was a large one, and they had many close friends. At the core of the family’s relationships and struggles stood her mother, a capable and ambitious woman who had high aspirations for...

  11. The Messiah Dances in the Moonlight and Swims Naked
    (pp. 51-60)

    Faced with the perennial question of where to settle, we decided to try Boston for a while. We followed exactly the same life rituals as in Beirut, and as we do in Washington now: we get up in the morning, drink our coffee while reading the newspaper (in Beirut we used to sit on our apartment balcony in Showeifat and observe its fertile desert); breakfast over, we leave for work or wander the city streets, without guidance or direction.

    Once we went up the John Hancock Tower to observe Boston from above. We went up, maybe to the sixtieth floor,...

  12. The Joys and Pains of the Pigeons
    (pp. 61-77)

    We must have had our fill of watching the city’s nakedness. Throwing a parting glance at the Potomac, we went down to continue our walk along the Mall. We sat down next to an old man feeding pigeons. One of them approached him confidently and pecked pieces of bread from his hand.

    “Why do we Arabs call boys’ private parts ‘pigeons’?” I asked my beloved.


    “Really, I want to know.”

    “You are back to your hallucinations!”

    “I know a beautiful woman named ‘joys of the pigeon.’”

    My beloved had a good laugh at that. An American woman stopped right...

  13. Descend, O Death
    (pp. 78-88)

    We move away from the edge of the bluff overlooking Potomac Falls and sit in an isolated spot. The angry roar of the river still drowns out all conversation. Closing my eyes I listen to the sound of the river, as though listening to storm music.

    I look into my beloved’s eyes, a long stare. “What’s the matter?” she asks with a smile.

    “Nothing,” I reply, “nothing at all. I’m just trying to travel through your eyes.”

    Her smile widens as gradually she too returns from the dream world.

    Her smiling expression turns quizzical, then perplexed—all blended (or, at...

  14. The Longing for the Flute
    (pp. 89-95)

    I gaze at her, seeing my own face in hers. Perhaps she can see her face in mine. The world turns into a river. Everything is moving, growing, undulating, raging, and plunging. Currents toss us around, rising and falling with us, while their salt seeps deep inside us.

    “I’ll drive,” I hear my beloved say.


    “Don’t I have the right?”

    “Of course. But I want to know why now?”

    “Because your stream of consciousness is in charge.”

    I wrap my arm around her shoulder. “Don’t let it bother you,” I say.

    “But it does!” she interrupts firmly. “And when...

  15. Death in Exile
    (pp. 96-100)

    When the cassette came to an end, my beloved said that, even though he certainly had a beautiful voice, his poetry was nothing special. She wanted to hear some classical music, but I still wanted to listen to the sound of the reed playing; that way, we would stay in the realms of longing for the flute. She had her way, but that did not manage to distract me from my musings. Silently I addressed Nasim’s spirit. I expressed my gratitude to him, my sadness at his death in exile, and my sorrow that, when he had passed by my...

  16. Reading in the Clouds
    (pp. 101-111)

    The two of us meander our way through narrow, winding paths in the Shenandoah Mountains amid dense, colorful forests. The radiant, harmonious colors are so spectacular that we can’t make up our minds: should we hurry on and discover yet more variations of color, or sit down and try to take in the ones in front of us? They lead us wherever they want, and as fast as they want. Trees of red, wine, green, and yellow together, gold, cranberry, burgundy, orange, sand, crimson—incandescent colors, radiant, warm, cool, wavy, loud, still, interweaving, pure, filtered, withered, vibrant.

    We meander through...

  17. Makhul and Askess
    (pp. 112-121)

    Like autumn leaves and crane feathers, my father resisted the fall. Ever since that moment, I have been haunted by his fall. Whenever I hear the sound of his body tumbling, I refocus my thoughts and try to visualize him.

    He had a thin face, the color of burnt honey. I especially recall his pronounced features, his expressions, and his deep eyes. His bamboo-like height was probably closer to tall than average. I also recall that he used to wear loose pants, a headdress, a headband, boots, and a wide belt. He was a master of the dabka dance. After...

  18. The Assassination of Wildflowers
    (pp. 122-127)

    I recall a trip to southern Lebanon on a beautiful spring day. We were enchanted by fields of wildflowers, stretching away into the distance as far as the eye could see. It was during those same spring days that Israel invaded those fields, and so I went back to the photographs we had taken. I imagined the tanks of the Israeli defense force trampling over the wildflowers. George, I hope your family was not in any danger. And you, Hasan, where are you? How are things, I wonder, with Adaysa and the spring we drank from till we had quenched...

  19. Another Generation of Forests
    (pp. 128-134)

    From my imaginary voyages I returned to reality. “Congratulations, Don Quixote,” I told myself, “on your illusory victories!” My wife was collecting leaf samples. I asked her whether she’d marry me again if we got divorced. She didn’t hesitate. In the past she’d often repeated her mistakes, she said, but this was one mistake she wasn’t going to repeat. “I wouldn’t agree to a divorce anyway,” I told her, “because I’d have to ask for your hand all over again.”

    I gave her a hug, then let her go. Side by side we walked down narrow back paths and then...

  20. Profound Sorrow and Happiness
    (pp. 135-145)

    I wake up abruptly from a nightmare. Beneath a huge tree in the Shenandoah Mountains I can feel my beloved’s hand on my shoulder, perching like a tiny bird on my branches. A golden leaf trembles, falls into a brook in Kafrun, and is quickly swept toward the falls.

    “Do you remember,” I ask my beloved, “Makhada Falls in Kafrun?”

    “You call those falls?” she replied. “You can’t compare them with even the smallest falls on the Potomac. What’s made you think of them now?”

    “The crane.”

    “The crane?”

    “Yes. The crane’s made me think of them. It reminds me...

  21. Leaving the Shell
    (pp. 146-150)

    My beloved handed me a leaf that had just fallen from a lofty tree. I looked at its blazing colors and its stem, with translucent veins spreading through all parts of its surface. I gave the leaf back to my beloved.

    “Do you remember,” I asked, “the story of the deformed boy with elephantiasis? He grew an enormous, long, powerful arm.”

    “The one who used to beat up all the other kids, you mean, including his brothers and sisters?”

    “That’s the one. His parents always had to defend him. They asked the other kids to stay away from him and...

  22. Glossary
    (pp. 151-152)
  23. Translators’ Afterword
    (pp. 153-158)

    InThe Crane, Halim Barakat gives us a sensitive and honest personal account of his life. In this short autobiographical novel he recalls his past and documents a life-voyage of rootlessness, nostalgia, alienation, and continuous exile, all couched in a poetic style. The reader follows the writer on this headlong journey, seeking answers to the difficult questions that the novel raises. Beyond this, Barakat manages to transcend his own experiences, parlaying them into a more universal statement, one that applies to all Arab intellectuals enduring oppression and banishment. With its critical insights into fifty years of the author’s life, the...

  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 159-162)