AS SAHAR KHALIFEH FINISHES READING A passage from her latest novel at the Assilah Moussem in northern Morocco, the invited audience at the Hassan II Centre burst into spontaneous applause. Among the outstanding figures present from the world of books and culture at the festival, the Palestinian writer stands out for the longevity of her literary career and quality of her writing.
Sahar has received awards from all over the world, including the Alberto Moravia Prize in Italy, the Cervantes Award in Spain and the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2006. Assilah's Mohamed Zafzaf Award for lifetime achievement, presented to her by Assilah's mayor Mohamed Benaissa, underscores the continuing importance of the subject matter of her works as well as the originality of her approach.
Sahar was born the fifth girl to a family in Nablus, 63kms north of Jerusalem in 1942. Her early years were marked by the family's anguish at not having produced a male heir, much in the same way as her early novels are distinguished by her feminist stance in writing about the Palestinian resistance. Critics have categorised Sahar's point of view in simple terms; that Palestinians have to contend with both internal conflict as well as the enemy without.
But her own writing is far more subtle. According to Rizan Mahmoud Ibrahim, a Jordanian writer and Associate Professor at the University of Petra, as well as belonging to the school of social realism, Sahar carefully mimics the simplicity of everyday speech. "Sahar is controversial because not everyone accepts her political stance," Rizan says. "To summarise her approach we need only quote from her first novel, Wild Thorns. 'there is always more than one dimension to the picture'".
Sahar found her multi-dimensional voice after taking an English literature degree at Birzeit University and founding the Union of Palestinian Writers. Wild Thorns, her most acclaimed novel to date and published in 1975 chronicles the daily social toll occupation exacts on Palestinians. She examines relationships already under pressure because of limitations imposed by the occupation and reveals a more complex truth that underpins the conflict.
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