Kahlil Gibran—Man and Poet, A New Biography

Kahlil Gibran


Kahlil Gibran—Man and Poet, A New Biography by Suheil Bushrui and Joe Jenkins (One World, 2005) Gibran, noted for his poetic masterpiece, The Prophet, wrote over twenty literary works in both English and Arabic. This new biography penetrates the heart of Gibran’s brilliance, charting his colorful life, his dramatic love affairs, and his artistic achievements, portraying a remarkable man. An inspiring read.


Judas, Amos Oz

Judas, by Amos Oz (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016), is an exquisite love story and one of his most powerful novels. (“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Thus, spoke the prophet Jeremiah. Thomas Mann writes somewhere that hatred is simply love with a minus sign placed before it. Jealousy is the proof that love is like hatred, because in jealousy, love and hatred are mixed together. In the Song of Songs, in the selfsame verse, we are told that love is strong as death, jealousy cruel as the grave.”)

East West Street

FullSizeRenderGiven the situation in the Middle East and other war-torn areas, East West Street, by Philippe Sands (Knopf) is poignant. It is an account of the origins of crimes against humanity and genocide. It is a well-written book, which I highly recommend because it relates the personal and intellectual evolution of two men, Rafael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht, who simultaneously originated the ideas of “genocide” and “crimes against humanity.” They did not know each other, yet studied at the same university with the same professors in a city little known today that was a major cultural center of Europe. “The little Paris of Ukraine,” was variously called Lemberg, Lwów, Lvov, or Lviv.

“The little town lies in the middle of a great plain…It begins with little huts and ends with them. After a while, the huts are replaced by houses. Streets begin. One runs from north to south, the other from east to west.”
Joseph Roth – The Wandering Jews, 1927

“What haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others.”
Nicholas Abraham – Notes on the Phantom, 1975

The Fall of the Ottomans


The Fall of the Ottomans by Eugene Rogan (Basic Books) provides a vivid account as to the origins of the current turmoil in the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire was established in the Sixteenth Century and extended from south of Vienna to include the Balkans, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, and all the way around the Mediterranean up to Algeria.

Fearing encroachment of the Russians on Turkey’s northern flank, the Ottomans formed a military alliance with Germany. Two years into WWI, Britain, and France were bogged down in the killing fields of the Western Front. To divert German resources, the Allies attacked the Ottoman Empire by landing troops in Gallipoli–a devastating defeat. The Allies further attacked the Turks up the Euphrates to Bagdad, at the same time Colonial Lawrence led the Arab armies north from Egypt to Damascus, with the promise that they were being given their independence. Instead, the British and the French became colonial powers, dividing the defeated Ottomans according to the Sykes-Picot secret agreement.

These new borders, drawn in straight lines, brought Iraq, Transjordan, and Palestine under British influence, and Syria and Lebanon under French influence. The newly created borders did not correspond to actual sectarian, tribal, or ethnic distinctions on the ground, leading to the present-day conflict.