Recently published in English translation, My Name Is Adam is the first volume of a projected trilogy titled Children of the Ghetto by the celebrated Lebanese author Elias Khoury—a former member of the Palestinian terrorist organization Fatah. The book’s narrator and protagonist is an Arab from the city of Lydda who regularly claims to be a Jewish survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto. In the book’s second half, the narrator recounts his family’s fate during Israel’s war of independence, making frequent reference to the 1948 massacre of Palestinians in Lydda by the Haganah—an event that, as the historian Martin Kramer has demonstrated in Mosaic, never happened. While one can appreciated Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe without believing it an accurate portrait of the Middle Ages, Adam Kirsch argues that this and other historical inaccuracies compromise My Name Is Adam even as a work of fiction:
A full explanation [of the events in Lydda] would require mentioning the 100,000 Jews who were slowly starving in Jerusalem, which was under siege by Arab forces; it was to open the road to Jerusalem that the Israelis launched their offensive against Lydda and Ramle. But Khoury doesn’t discuss this background, any more than he takes account of the reciprocal killings that Jews and Arabs had been inflicting on one another for twenty years before 1948. The fall of Lydda appears to the reader . . . as an inexplicable catastrophe, a bolt from the blue.
The main problem, however, lies in Khoury’s insistence on identifying what happened in Lydda with the Jewish experience in Europe during the Holocaust. The chief example is his use of the term “ghetto” to describe the Arab quarter of the conquered town. As Khoury acknowledges, this neighborhood was sealed off with fencing only for about a month while the war went on. Yet he insists that the term applies equally well to Lydda and to Warsaw, where 400,000 Jews were held captive for two years until they were murdered in death camps.
This kind of rhetoric is common enough, and to a reader who knows nothing more of the relevant history than what they read in My Name Is Adam, it might seem apt. But it is a vast distortion of the meaning, cause, and scale of what happened in 1948 to equate the suffering of the Palestinians at the hands of the Jews with the suffering of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis. Of course, it’s not incumbent on victims to place their tragedy in historical perspective: each individual’s suffering is unique and deserves to be mourned on its own terms. But in comparing Lydda to Warsaw, . . . Khoury is precisely failing to mourn Lydda on its own terms.