Khayrallah Prize 2017
Image courtesy of New Vessel Press
Charif Majdalani left Lebanon in 1980 for France to study modern literature at the University of Aix-en-Provence. He returned to Lebanon in 1993 after having defended his thesis on the French poet, essayist, actor, and theater director Antonin Artaud. Initially, he held a teaching position at the University of Balamand, and later he was a professor of literature at Saint Joseph University in Beirut.
In 1995 he began working at the Lebanese magazine L'Orient-Express, where he was in charge of its literary section. He left in 1998 when the publication of this newspaper ceased.
In 1999, Majdalani returned to teaching at Saint Joseph University in Beirut where he was in charge of the Department of French Literature. In addition to teaching, his articles appeared in various French and Lebanese newspapers (L'Orient-Le Jour, An Nahar, Le Monde, Libération). Since 2006 Majdalani has been a member of the editorial board of L'Orient littéraire, and in 2012, Charif Majdalani became the President of the International House of Writers in Beirut.
Charif Majdalani is the author of five novels, translated into six languages.
The Khayrallah Center is pleased to announce that Lebanese author Dr. Charif Majdalani was selected as the 2017 Khayrallah Prize winner. Majdalani was awarded the Khayrallah Prize, which includes a $2500 monetary award, for his novel Moving the Palace (Translated by Edward Gauvin; published by New Vessel Press). Early next year, Dr. Majdalani will travel to NC State for a public ceremony in which he will receive the award and deliver a talk about his work.
Charif Majdalani’s historical epic, Moving the Palace, is the saga of an early Twentieth Century adventurer who leads a caravan out of Africa, across the Sinai and up through Palestine and Syria, all the way to his homeland, Lebanon. The caravan’s cargo is, as per the title, a palace. Yes, an actual palace, broken down into its component parts—doors, window frames, roof tiles, mirrors, the very stone blocks of its walls—all numbered for reassembly and loaded onto many hundreds of camels in a line stretching so far that it takes a fast horse ten minutes to gallop its length. At the head of this caravan is Samuel Ayyad, the grandfather of our narrator, and his journey home is a modern Odyssey. Along the way, he encounters skeptic sheikhs, suspicious tribal leaders, bountiful feasts, pilgrims bound for Mecca and T.E. Lawrence in a tent. Or, as the New York Times Sunday Book Review noted, this is “a Middle Eastern heart-of-darkness tale that flows like a dream, occasionally turning nightmarish, but is always rendered with a hypnotic quality… Majdalani’s novels are much praised in the Francophone world, and with good reason. His seductive prose twists and turns, deftly matching hallucinatory content with form.”
The Khayrallah Prize has a special resonance because it is conferred by an esteemed research center at the heart of a great university.
According to Khayrallah Center Director, Dr. Akram Khater, Moving the Palace stands out “because of its rich details and eloquence in exploring an unusual and unexplored part of the Lebanese diasporic experience. Its richness is leavened with humor, with self-deprecating asides and post-modern reminders that this is an imagined history.” It is also a circular journey that brings Majdalani’s protagonist, Samuel Ayyad back to the shadow of Mount Sannine. “In this he departs from narratives of migration that are so focused on departure that they miss the many who return bringing back with them disassembled palaces to rebuild in Lebanon, and to rebuild Lebanon itself.” By the end, Charif Majdalani has joined together disparate elements––the elegant and the ironic, the historical and the imagined––to leave us with a renewed sense of wonder about those who migrate.
In its third year, the Khayrallah Prize identifies, awards and publicly honors those whose original artistic productions and projects capture the experiences of Lebanese immigrants, their relationship to Lebanon and their new homes, their communities and peregrinations.