This fall I’ll be assigning No Knives in the Kitchens of this City by Khaled Khalifa for Honors 101 – “Self, Society and Identity.”
This is probably the best piece of literature I’ve had the chance to read in the last 6 or so months, and in my quest to assign my students readings from outside a western perspective, this is the obvious choice. My hope in assigning Khalifa’s book is that they begin to open themselves up, if even in the smallest ways, to the Syrian experience, and the reality of living under a brutal dictatorship for decades. I’ve noticed in two semesters of teaching that as much as they want to believe they’re sympathetic to refugees and aware of the Syrian crisis, there is still the tendency to lay blame and create an “other” that justifies a refugee ban.
This novel isn’t linear, and it isn’t easy – you have to give yourself over to the experience. Perhaps its easier to grasp if you’ve lived the parallel lives described by Khalifa to preserve your sanity, but university life isn’t supposed to be about easily tangible concepts and ideas – we are meant to challenge our young citizen scholars.
I’ll be pairing this with Adichie’s Danger of a Single Story, as well as two recent episodes of this American Life which explore refugee life in Greece. This semester I assigned Cities of Salt by Abdulrahman Munif, and challenged them to think of the death of a city, rather than a character, and the perils of oil discovery and American technology, rather than the glamor of it.