by Kahlil Gibran
THE LITRARY WORK
An Arabic novella set in the village of Bsharri, Lebanon, around 1900; written between 1903 and 1908; published in Arabic (as al-Ajnihah al-mutekassirah) in 1912, in English in 1957.
A young man falls in love with a rich heiress who reciprocates his passion, but the local bishop interferes, ensnaring the heiress in a loveless match. Its tragic ending turns the story into both a scathing denunciation of clerical corruption and a spirited defense of women’s rights.
Events in History at the Time the Novella Takes Place
The Novella in Focus
For More Information
Gibran Kahlil Gibran was born January 6, 1883, in Bsharri, Lebanon. Part of a wave of several hundred thousand emigrants from Syria and Lebanon, his mother moved with her four children to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1895. Gibran met his first mentor here, the photographer Fred Holland Day, who recognized the budding artist in the young man. Three years after his arrival, Gibran returned to Lebanon to attend the secondary school Madrasat al-Hikmah in Beirut. He read voraciously here, consuming the Arabic literary classics during his four-year stay in Lebanon and developing an intimate connection with his homeland and its problems. Gibran returned to Boston to spend the next half-dozen years in artistic pursuits, including the writing of stories and short “prose poems” in a biblical style. In 1904 the aspiring young writer had a fateful meeting with Amin al-Ghurayyib, editor of al-Muhajir (The Immigrant), the journal that published his early works. Soon after, Gibran published two short-story collections: Ara’is al-muruj (1906; Nymphs of the Valley, 1948) and al-Arwah al-mutamarridah (1908; Spirits Rebellious, 1947). The two collections, along with the prose poems, would establish him as an innovative man of letters. But first, also in 1904, Gibran met Mary Haskell. The headmistress of the School for Girls in Boston, Haskell became something of a guardian angel to Gibran until the end of his life, supporting him in his careers as both a writer and a painter (five of his canvases would later grace the walls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Gibran finished Broken Wings in 1908 but did not publish it. That same year, on a trip financed by Haskell, he set sail for Paris, France, where he spent two years studying art and meeting distinguished artists and men of letters. Gibran returned to Boston for a couple of years, then, in 1912, moved to his final home, New York. There he continued his artistic and literary pursuits, publishing in 1918 a long philosophical Arabic poem, al-Mawahib (The Processions), and also his first work in English, The Madman. In 1923 Gibran published his English-language masterpiece, The Prophet, which made him a household name in the United States and a well-known author globally. In the Arab and Muslim world, however, The Prophet did not have the same impact. There the most widely read andbeloved of his writings is Broken Wings —a Romeo and Juliet-type romance about a love thwarted by social realities that are daringly exposed in this groundbreaking work.
Beirut at the turn of the twentieth century
Broken Wings is set between 1898 and 1902, a period Gibran spent in Lebanon, mostly in Beirut, where the action unfolds. Beirut in this era was directly ruled by the Turks, or more exactly by the Ottoman sultan Abdulhamid II (1876–1909), whose regime was well known for its suppression of constitutional government and freedom of speech, its imposition of censorship, and its pervasive practice of espionage. Turkish as well as Arab nationalists wrote and otherwise protested against the regime. A victim of the regime’s policies, Madrasat al-Hikmah, the school Gibran attended at the time, suffered from Ottoman opposition to its founding and construction. Gibran became a diehard enemy of Ottoman rule and of the social inequity that plagued his Arab surroundings.
In Beirut, as elsewhere in Lebanon, the Arab social structure consisted of rigid, widely disparate categories. The rich were exceedingly rich, and the poor were exceedingly poor. Lebanese society was run by notables, al-Zu‘ama, whose wealth or high social status gave them authority over a particular set of relatives and followers. “In league” with these notables were “religious leaders who themselves control [led] and own[ed] large areas of land” (Zuwiyya Yamak in Binder, p. 149). Arab writers speak of feudal-like relations being rampant in the Lebanon of this period, not only in secular but also ecclesiastical circles. They speak too of the fact that corruption, especially bribery, became plainly visible at the end of the nineteenth century (under the rule of Wasa Pasha [1883–92]), followed by “ceaseless squabbling for place and power” and by the “interventions of religious dignitaries in the political fray” (Longrigg in Kisirwani, p. 3). It was the presence of notables and groups of followers that gave rise to these feudal-like relations. In exchange for their support, a notable would protect or advance his followers’ interests, which perpetuated social inequity. The situation was changing somewhat at the time of the novel, because large-scale emigration led to some money being funneled back to family members left in Lebanon, but inequity remained rampant in the country. Gibran, who found its persistence even more oppressive than the Ottoman policies, which were in many cases innovations not yet consistently implemented, made social inequity a main theme in Broken Wings. At the same time, there was fierce competition in Lebanon for high social status and wealth (or at least the appearance of wealth), which is another primary factor in the novella.
Beirut was the hub of intellectual life in Lebanon. By the end of the nineteenth century, it could boast two major academies of learning—the American Protestant and French Jesuit Universities—and other schools where distinguished men of the Arab Renaissance taught, such as the Yazijis and the Bustanis. It was a city in which the East met the West, in which Islam met Christianity. One of the most significant literary cultural events of this period was the translation of the Christian Bible into Arabic. A feat sponsored by the Protestant American missionaries, it entailed the work of three distinguished men of letters: Butrus al-Bustani, Nasif al-Yaziji, and Yusuf al-Asir. Then came another translation sponsored by the French Jesuits and perfected by other distinguished scholars, such as Ibrahim al-Yaziji.
The school Gibran attended—Madrasat al-Hikmah—had a profound influence on his work. A Maronite secondary school, it was founded in1875 by Yusuf al-Dibs (1833–1907), a bishop and an author of some important historical works such as the eight-volume Tarikh Suriya (The History of Syria). The school was celebrated for its excellence in the teaching of the Arabic language by such distinguished instructors as Sa’id al-Shartuni and Sulayman al-Bustani, who translated the Iliad into Arabic verse.
Gibran himself had as a teacher at the school an inspiring tutor, a priest, Father Yusuf al-Haddad, who recommended to his precocious student a series of influential Arabic books. First, there was Kitab al-aghani of al-Isfahani, a text on Arabic poetry, music, and song that would have acquainted Gibran with Arabic love poetry and with many accounts of Arab lover-poets, such as the legendary Majnun of Layla and Majnun. Next the instructor recommended the Bible, whose impact is evident in the many biblical references that abound in Gibran’s work (such as a reference to the “immortal songs of Solomon” in Broken Wings [p. 175]). Father Haddad also advised Gibran to read the works of Adib Ishaq, a fiery reformer and patriot, whose vigorous style and bold ejaculations no doubt appealed to the rebel in Gibran. Perhaps even more influential was the philosophy of universal love touted by Fransis Marrash of Aleppo; to express his philosophy, he coined innovative Arabic phrases, which became precursors of many others that Gibran himself would coin.
Bsharri at the turn of the twentieth century
The setting in Broken Wings is a fictional environment for a personal drama that really unfolded in Gibran’s own village of Bsharri. Bsharri sits in Mount Lebanon, which was politically in the mutasarrijiyah, that is, the part of present-day Lebanon that, after tragic denominational strife in 1860, witnessed the intervention of the Western powers, especially France, to determine its future. In 1861, the mountain, al-Jabal, became autonomous and no longer had a Turkish garrison. Its governors were Catholics, and each was called a mutasarrij, giving rise to the name mutasarrifiyah for the region as a whole. The independent province would flourish until the outbreak of the First World War, at which point it was abolished by the Turks. But before then, in this relatively autonomous Christian atmosphere, Gibran was born and bred.
FRANSIS MARRASH OF ALEPPO
A forerunner of the early Arabic novelists, Fransis Marrash of Aleppo (1836–73) lost his sight at about the age of 30 yet went on to write fiction as well as poetry and articles. His Ghabat al-haqq (The Forest of Truth) is an allegory about human freedom, hampered by the arbitrary social systems of civilization. Another title by him, Durr al-sadaf fi ghara’ib al-sudaf (Pearl Shells in Relating Strange Coincidences), which, as the title implies, is the narration of a series of events, paved the way for the more sophisticated narrative of later novelists. It includes a romance as well as Marrash’s own ideas about compassion, respect, and love for humankind. The romance ends happily in the marriage of lovers, but the fiction includes ideas that serve as objections or protests to common behaviors of the day, and so was as daring for its time as Gibran’s own novella would be later.
Bsharri and the region in which it was located, which overlooked the Valley of Qadisha (Wadi Qadisha), was the center of the Maronite Church in Lebanon. The followers of St. Maron (d. 410) had emigrated here from Apamea on the Orontes in Syria in the second half of the seventh century. A Christian sect—the most populous in Lebanon—the Maronites saw their highest authority as the Pope in Rome, but their practice differed from the Roman Catholics’—Maronite clergy could marry, and they used a Syriac liturgy.
If Maron was the saint of the new sect, Yuhanna Marun (Joannes Maro, d. ca. 707) was the hero and founder of the new nation cradled on the banks of the Qadisha and in the shades of the cedars…. Since then, the Maronites have isolated themselves and developed the individualistic traits characteristic of mountaineers…. For centuries, beginning with the fifteenth, Qannubin, carved and sheltered in the solid rock of the rugged Qadisha valley, provided a seat for the Maronite patriarchate which now uses Bakirki in winter.
(Hitti, p. 249)
The Bsharri region was dotted with monasteries such as Mar Sarkis (Sergius), Mar Alisha (Elijah) and Qazhayah, well-known to Gibran. Both they and their members would figure in Gibran’s life and writings.
A LEBANESE CAPITAL OUTSIDE LEBANON
Increasing denominational strife in the early nineteenth century climaxed in a bloody civil war between the Maronite Christians and the Oruzes in 1860. Pivotal in this war was the tragic massacre of some 12,000 Maronites, which prompted the intervention of European powers and the creation of Mount Lebanon as a primarily Christian province of the Ottoman Empire in 1861. Strictly speaking, the city of Beirut sat outside the province’s borders, but culturally and commercially it functioned as the capital anyway, playing host to Lebanon’s Christian merchants and to its Christian schools. Later, in 1920, Mount Lebanon would be enlarged to include Beirut along with other additional areas, forming Lebanon as we know it today.
Most relevant for understanding Broken Wings is the social structure prevalent in Bsharri and, more generally, in Mount Lebanon at the time. Society was stratified into levels that had long remained strictly divided. If a lover from a poor working class were to court a maiden from a well-to-do, established family, the suitor would be contemptuously rejected. Such is the case in Broken Wings, which draws from Gibran’s personal life to tell a tragic, if dramatic, love story.
Marriage—strictly a family matter
Before the First World War, marriage in the Maronite communities of Mount Lebanon was a family affair. Marriage preferences followed a scheme of choices for a partner ranked in the following order:
- A cousin on the father’s side of the family
- A cousin on the mother’s side of the family
- A member of another family in the village
- A member of a family in a neighboring village
At age 14 or 15 the family would assemble to choose a suitable wife for a boy. The young woman was usually 12 or 13, the initial marriageable age. Selection of the spouse was based mainly on the needs and interests of the family. If an outsider wanted to marry a girl, his family would ask her father’s permission, and only if no one in his family wanted her for himself would the permission be granted. In the novel, the protagonist is an outsider—his father now lives a “great distance” away—compared to the bishop’s nephew, who both seek the hand of Salma (Gibran, Broken Wings, p. 15). Not only is the nephew a local resident, but in comparison to the poor protagonist, he is a man of status, derived largely from that of his uncle the bishop.
Whether or not the match was appealing to Salma had little to do with the matter. It was common for these arranged marriages to be devoid of feeling. Typically a young man and woman who barely knew each other would become engaged, as reflected by lyrics from a late-nineteenth-century love song: “Oh dear: it has been one or two years since I got engaged to you (and) /I still do not know your name / Oh dear: Your name is the golden chain in the jewelry box / Oh dear; win the one who buys you and lose the one who sells you” (Tohme-Tabet, p. 44). In the novella Salma’s father feels he has little choice in the matter, and for her, ignoring or defying his wishes is out of the question: “children [like Salma] who had great respect for their parents were compelled to abide by their desires” (Tohme-Tabet, p. 44). Some families required the fiance to be of the same social status. Others with money but little status made a match that would help their family climb the social ladder, and by the same token, the opposite could occur: those with social status might make a match that brought the family money. A young person who refused to comply would be isolated or expelled from the family. There was, in any case, little opportunity for young men and women, whatever their religious affiliation, to meet in turn-of-the-century Lebanon. Society practiced a strict separation of the sexes in both public and private places. Village celebrations were for men only, and it was forbidden for women to dancewith men. At church, women sat on the back benches; at home they were not supposed to appear before a foreign visitor. The protagonist in Broken Wings, son of an old chum of Salma’s father, is more friend than foreigner.
Since the appearance of Mikhail Naimy’s life story of Gibran in the 1930s, research has established that the love affair in Broken Wings is autobiographical, based on Gibran’s love for a maiden from Bsharri, identified as Hala al-Dahir. According to his biographer-relatives, “there is little doubt… that in portraying [Salma] he tenderly recalled Hala Dahir” (Gibran, Jean, and Kahlil Gibran, p. 86). Gibran’s father, also named Kahlil Gibran, was a simple shepherd and tax collector. Gibran’s mother, Kamila, was a widow when his father married her. There was a local shaykh (sheikh) in Bsharri called Tannous, sometimes referred to as Raji. The patriarch of a family named Dahir, this shaykh had a son called Iskandar (Alexander) and two daughters, Sa’ida and Hala. Apparently, Gibran and his father visited the Dahirs before emigrating, and the shaykh behaved contemptuously toward the son of the goat herder. When Gibran returned to Lebanon in 1898, this attitude of condescension on the part of the father persisted. But it was the brother, Iskandar, who decided that no marriage between Gibran and his sister Hala would take place. His other sister, Sa‘ida, became important to scholars as an informant about this love affair between Gibran and Hala. Apparently when Gibran bade Hala farewell, he gave her a ring, a lock of his hair, a vial (in which there were some drops of his tears), and his cane. Hala never married and died a blind woman in 1955.
It is clear that opposition to a marriage between Gibran and Hala came more from the family than from the bishop. In Broken Wings, however, the bishop is the villain, thereby serving as a vehicle for a violent attack on clerical corruption. In fact, there was a real-life churchman who seconded the family’s opposition to the match, a priest of the Bsharri parish who chided Gibran for his cheekiness in aspiring to marry a Dahir. No doubt the priest’s opposition helped stimulate the novella’s anti-clerical stance, but the priest’s voice was the only ecclesiastical one to involve itself in the love affair, and it was not the decisive factor. The vehemence of the novella’s attack on the church is better explained as a reaction to the tragic events surrounding the death of As‘ad al-Shidyak, a Maronite who had converted to Protestantism around that time. After all attempts to retrieve him to the fold of Maronite Catholicism failed, As ad al-Shidyak was confined to a cell, where he died of starvation and neglect. Qannubin in Wadi Qadisha, whereGibran’s village Bsharri was located, was the seat of the Maronite Patriarchate to which As‘ad had been summoned, and the case would have been well known to Gibran. His outrage at the fate of the convert seems to have surfaced in other tales by Gibran too. The same As‘ad is thought to be the hero of his short stories “Yuhanna al-Majnun” (John the Madman), and “Khalil al-Kafir” (Khalil the Infidel).
Broken Wings tells the story of two star-crossed lovers. The maiden, Salma, daughter to Faris Karama, lives in a stately mansion in a suburb of Beirut. It is here that the narrator, of lower social status than she but son to an old friend of her father’s, falls in love with Salma at first sight. Her father, an aging gentleman, adores his lovely and lovable daughter and would happily see her married to an eligible and dependable young man worthy of her. Future meetings between the young man and Salma only deepen his chaste love and allow her to return it in kind. But any hopes for a match are dashed by the bishop of the region, Bulus Ghalib, who persuades the father to have his daughter betrothed to the bishop’s nephew, Mansur Ghalib.
This bishop is a man of “malicious cunning”; he chooses Salma to be his nephew’s wife “not for the beauty of her features or the nobility of her spirit, but because she [is] moneyed; her substantial fortune [will] guarantee the future of Mansur Bey and help establish his high status among the elite” (Broken Wings, p. 50). For his part, the adoring father has met the bishop’s nephew. He knows of the young man’s “coarseness, greed and corrupt morals” but feels trapped, for what “man in the East can decline to obey the leader of his religion and retain his honor among the people?” (Broken Wings, p. 50). “Is this your will, Papa?” asks Salma, dutiful daughter that she is, ready to forfeit her happiness (Broken Wings, p. 44). Salma cannot, in this society, disobey her father, just as he cannot disobey the bishop. Her predicament is far from unusual in her country; there are in Lebanon during this time “many girls of her kind who are sacrificed at the altars of their fathers’ fortunes and of their grooms’ ambitions” (Broken Wings, p. 51).
Unsurprisingly, Salma’s marriage to Mansur is full of unhappiness and hardships. Her one comfort comes from her secret monthly meetings with the protagonist, in which the two lovers embrace, kiss, and bare their innermost thoughts. The bishop, becoming wise to Salma’s monthly disappearances but not yet knowing where to, has her followed, whereupon she insists on stopping the monthly assignations, overpowering her lover’s desire to emigrate, determined for him to “remain honorable in the eyes of the people” (Broken Wings, p. 99).
Meanwhile, in her loveless marriage, Salma fails to give birth to a child for five years. Then hope stirs in her, for she does bear one, but the baby dies almost immediately after birth, and she soon follows. Mother and child are buried in the same spot. The tragic love story ends with the lover speaking to the gravedigger and then mourning at his beloved’s grave. At the end, he remains anonymous, as he has been throughout. Told in his first-person voice, the narration suggests that the story has autobiographical origins.
The plight of women, a literary issue
While Broken Wings deals with various problems that plagued early-twentieth-century Lebanon—outworn social conventions, clerical corruption, and the status of women—Gibran’s main issue in the novella is this last one. “Writers and poets try to perceive the reality of woman,” says Salma, “but at present they have not understood the secrets of [my] heart” (Broken Wings, p. 86). The writer Gibran tried. His efforts, in the context of his fiction, made him one of the most powerful defenders of women’s rights in his day. Gibran’s previously published short-story collections, Nymphs of the Valley and Spirits Rebellious, include other tales that depict the plight of Lebanese women. In the first collection is the story “Marta al-Baniyah,” which features a poor, innocent village girl. Seduced by a rich man from Beirut, she gives birth to a child by him, then is haplessly discarded. She must therefore find work as a prostitute to earn enough money to feed her baby and herself. “Rose al-Hani,” in the second collection, features a young woman who is married off to a wealthy and kindly enough old man. A caretaker, he fails to rouse in her feelings that allow for a full relationship. So she lives a duplicitous life, married to one man and in love with another, until the young heroine finally braves the disdain of society by leaving her husband for her beloved.
Gibran was not the only male writer to champion women’s rights in Arab society; another such writer in the Muslim world was Egypt’s Qasim Amin (d. 1908), author of Tahrir al-mar’ah (1899; The Emancipation of Women) and al-Mar’ah al-jadidah (1900; Modern Woman), who urged his society to educate women, not just for their benefit but for its own. But the global fame thatGibran achieved made him more effectual than most writers in the defense of women’s rights.
Arabic female writers of the era (e.g., Zaynab Fawwaz) raised issues on their own behalf, too, but it was not until later in the century that such women would attract a sizable readership. Indeed, the second half of the twentieth century saw the emergence of distinctive female writers, including Nawal al-Sa‘dawi in Egypt, Fatima Mernissi in Morocco, Ghadah al-Samman in Syria, and Hanan al-Shaykh in Lebanon (whose The Story of Zahra is also in WLAIT 6: Middle Eastern Literatures and Their Times). Centering on feminist issues, these later writers can be seen as Gibran’s descendants in spirit.
Stylistically the most important influence on Gibran’s writing was that of the Bible—its straightforward prose; its employment of parables and allegories; its modes of expression. Taking the Bible as his cue, Gibran cultivated what might be termed the “prose poem,” modeled on the Psalms of David instead of the traditional qasidah, the polythematic ode of classical Arabic poetry. Inventing new literary forms (generally referred to as Gibranesque), he wrote poetic prose as well as the prose poem. In his essays (published in 1914 under the title Dam ah wa ibtisamah [Tear and a Smile]), as well as his two previously mentioned short-story collections (Ara’is al-muruj, 1906, and al-Arwah al-mutamarridah, 1908), Gibran appears to be the implacable enemy of outworn social conventions, of clerical and secular corruption, and of feudalism. The climax to all these literary endeavors was Broken Wings, composed in 1908 but published in 1912. The novella is genetically related to his previous short stories, specifically to “Ara’is al-muruj,” which features both the setting of Bsharri and the character Yuhanna al-Majnun, who foreshadows the hero in Broken Wings. Another forerunner is the character Khalil al-Kafir in “al-Arwah al-mutamarridah,” a story that again takes place in Bsharri, this time in a monastery. The two semiautobiographical stories “Yuhanna al-Majnun” and “Khalil al-Kafir” are virtual rehearsals for the composition of Broken Wings. Clearly Gibran considered it the most intensely personal, as signified by his shift from third- to first-person singular in composing the narrative.
The model for Salma, Hala al-Dahir, survives in the literary consciousness of the modern Arab world together with Gibran as the Romeo and Juliet of modern Arabic literature and a revivification of the classical Arab lovers Qays and Layla. That Gibran dedicated his novella to Mary Haskell does not negate the probable autobiographical element. Hala is the inspiration for the novella’s heroine. Gibran’s dedication of Broken Wings to Haskell and his further elaboration on the matter to her (he said the story was not autobiographical) were undoubtedly motivated by various considerations: she was his patron and he needed to neutralize any jealousy she might harbor towards the real heroine by pretending that no one real inspired the female protagonist. Exercising foresight, Gibran apparently took the precaution of massaging egos before they were bruised.
Reception and impact
Immediately after its publication, Broken Wings received a torrent of reviews by critics in the Arab world, especially in Egypt, and in the United States. Most of these reviews were favorable, although critics found Broken Wings wanting in some of the novella’s conventional elements. What genre does it conform to, then? In truth, the work has defied categorization. It is perhaps most aptly described as a “love-poem-in-prose,” unified by the force of its universal theme of love, though critics have regarded it from the traditional perspective of the novella.
The Arab American writer Mikhail Naimy reviewed Broken Wings in an article in Arabic titled “Fajr al-amal ba’da layl al-ya’s” (The Dawn of Hope after the Night of Despair), published in the journal al-Funun (1913; The Arts). Naimy’s article expressed concern about the state of his homeland’s literature and then heralded Gibran as the star of a new dawn in Arabic letters (Naimy, pp. 57–70). The critic praised the Arab setting of Broken Wings, regarding this as the first sign of a genuine contribution to a vigorous new Arab literature. But the review found fault with the novella, too, saying it lacked realism and criticizing its heroine, Salma, in ways that distinguished Naimy as an even greater champion of women’s rights than Gibran. The critic expressed reservations over the characterization of the father, Faris Karami; the bishop, Bulus Ghalib; and his nephew, Mansur, as well, yet ended the review with a salute to Gibran.
Naimy’s own forte was the short story, a genre new to Arabic literature, and he soon distinguished himself as the Arab American writer who perfected composition in this genre in Arabic. Indeed, his critique of Broken Wings may have been an important stimulant that led Naimy in that direction, as he attempted to avoid mistakes ascribed to Gibran. More specifically, an element in Broken Wings may have inspired
BEHIND THE ARTISTIC MAN—GIBRAN’S INSPIRATIONAL WOMEN
The manuscript of Broken Wings was conceived between 1903 and 1908, years that Gibran spent in Boston. During this period, Gibran resumed his interest in painting and drawing, which resulted in his meeting his future benefactress, Mary Haskell. Haskell was not the only woman in his life during this period. Before her, Gibran had known Josephine Peabody, a strikingly beautiful poetess whose relationship with him ended when she married a Harvard professor. A third woman in Gibran’s life at this time was a French teacher in Mary Haskell’s school, Emilie Michel, popularly known as Micheline, an aspiring actress and one of Gibrarn’s artwork models. All these women failed to make him forget Hala al-Dahir, his first love. He wrote an essay in this period (“Mukhabba’at al-sudur”) that could be a reminiscence of his love affair with Hala, especially the image it projects of the lover. Even more telling is a second composition of the period (Munajat), in which he addresses his beloved, whom he drew in terms that suggest Hala, especially when he refers to her as “living beyond the seas,” which strongly points to Hala in Lebanon. More telling stiff is a report in one of his biographies that Gibran wrote to Hala’s sister, Sa‘ida, through her girlfriend Marun Awwad, explicitly asking for a photograph of Hala, but to no avail, so he painted her portrait on the strength of his visual memory. Presently the painting hangs in the Gibran museum in Bsharri; some contest the identity of its subject, arguing that it is the portrait of Charlotte Teller, a freelance writer and novelist with whom Gibran had a relationship.
what is considered Naimy’s finest short story, “al-Aqir” (The Sterile Woman). In Broken Wings, Gibran treated the subject of sterility when discussing how the misery of Salma’s arranged marriage was compounded by her failure to conceive a child for five years. Broken Wings thus has additional significance because of its influence on the writer who won renown as the master of the short story in Arab American literature.
As one might predict, Broken Wings elicited adverse criticism from conservative circles, both Christian and Muslim, in view of its violent attack on clerical corruption and ecclesiastical feudalism. The writer Mayy Ziadah, Gibran’s female counterpart in Egypt, took him to task, again for his characterization of Salma, but this time because she thought it leveled a blow at family life and the sanctity of the marriage bond. However, Naimy’s praise was reiterated and expanded upon by Muhammad Najm, a well-known critic in the Arab world. A century after the novella appeared in Arabic, the high regard accorded it in the Arab world endures. The American reader used to Gibran’s Prophet, which was composed in English, may not fully appreciate this love-poem-in-prose in translation, since its power is so closely bound up with the language in which it was originally written. Yet despite the lapse of a hundred years, Broken Wings continues to grip readers as in 1912, when it first took the literary Arab world by storm. So enduringly popular is the novella that in 1962 it was adapted into an Arabic film with English subtitles, and in 2003 a reviewer waxed rhapsodic about the film and the story (Hall). Eliciting praise for close to a century, Broken Wings is thus a testament to Ezra Pound’s observations not only that fine literature is language infused with meaning to the highest possible degree but also that it is “news that stays news” (Pound, pp. 28–29).
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World Literature and Its Times: Profiles of Notable Literary Works and the Historic Events That Influenced Them