Mustafa Khalifa’s ‘The Shell’ Latest Example of Literature Offering Insight of Syrian Ordeal

Forthcoming in Al Jadid
Al Jadid Staff

A mere glance at the most notorious prisons in the world, Assad’s Tadmur moves to the forefront, ranking 2nd on a list of the 10 worst prisons. This is the prison which “hosted” Mustafa Khalifa, the author of “The Shell” for more than 13 years, and which Fawaz Azem reviews for the next issue of Al Jadid.

No wonder the reviewer considers Tadmur to approximate a concentration camp experience. While the extermination is perpetrated on a smaller scale in Tadmur, it displays the same disregard for human life and the worth of a human being. Khalifa’s “The Shell,” according to Azem, recalls such classics of prison literature as Jacobo Timmerman’s “Prisoner without a Name, Cell Without a Number” and Alexander’s Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," while also echoing qualities of Victor E. Frankel’s seminal work “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

The harrowing experience in Assad's prisons moves beyond torture. Arranging prison visits by relatives requires bribing the warden with “a kilogram of gold” delivered to his mother. And in the case of scabies, prisoners have to bribe the prison doctor for medications to stop the spread of this skin infection.

Still, “The Shell” has room for dark comedy, charging Khalifa as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood organization was the most memorable since Khalifa is a Christian.

“The Shell,” which Azem deems autobiographical, makes up the bulk of Khalifa’s harrowing prison experience.

Fawaz Azem’s "Mustafa Khalifa’s ‘The Shell’ Latest Example of Literature Offering Insight on Syrian Ordeal" is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid, Vol. 23, No. 76, 2019.

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