The BBC and its reporter Jane O’Brien just published a very strong and detailed report (along with a radio broadcast) about the 100th anniversary of The Book of Khalid and its connection to contemporary events. While it is always very challenging to speculate how a past artistic work relates to present-day issues, there is obviously a massive level of uncanny symbolism in The Book of Khalid, especially in connection with the Arab-American relationship. Rihani clearly intended a work that would await some future moment. Khalid, whose name means “eternal” or “immortal,” disappears into the desert after sparking these riots in Damascus and being pursued by the Ottoman authorities. It is suggested that he will return at some future moment, while his great mission to meld “East” and “West” remains a perpetual project.
I sometimes say that here the overwhelming degree of symbols can even cause a sort of physical violence against the body and mind, a feeling of great offense that Rihani is not better known and studied. I hope that this BBC report will encourage more English speakers, in particular, to engage Rihani’s work and writing. The Book of Khalid can be read online at Project Gutenberg (direct link to HTML version).