Every morning she wakes up, forgetting that she has published 40 books, translated to many languages and she says “but what have I done to deserve the title of a writer?”
Today, we shall be dwelling upon the story of a woman inhabited by great anxiety: Venus Khoury-Ghata. I had the chance of having her on one of my shows and this article is dedicated to her at a time where the whole world is celebrating her latest success which is the 2011 Goncourt Prize.
Born in modest circumstances, Venus was elected Miss Lebanon in 1959. After her marriage to renowned developer Joseph Khoury, she discovered Beirut’s worldly and lavish social life through fancy evenings, reigned by long dresses, cocktails and candlelight that made her giddy with happiness. It was the Beirut when “men’s looks made women beautiful”. Her days were spent grooming for evening events “to see people look at me with great admiration”; she was trying to seduce, to please, even from far. She had to please at all costs…
With three children in three years, a deep feeling inside of her knew that her husband was leading a different life but it meant nothing to her; somewhere in her, it does not hurt her since she thinks everyone has flaws through his life. Her first husband was taken by a beautiful woman who also became his wife.
Venus anticipated the death of her parents to write and reveal taboos she had to face; she therefore brought to light a book entitled “The House in Tears”. A brother poet goes to Paris to publish his poems; the city of Moliere does not publish his poems but takes him to the hell of drugs. He returned to Lebanon, completely lost, and his father, as punishment, instead of sending him to a rehab center sends him to an asylum where he lived in seclusion for 18 years. So, when her brother stopped writing, she wrote for him; she wrote in his notebook, with his pen, carrying a legacy of poetry that was his. Otherwise, she would have never written!
So, here she comes to Paris where her life changed overnight. We are in 1972. She needed a man to protect her, a strong man. If her first husband gave her what she missed in her childhood, she felt the need to have a companion who speaks her language, someone who speaks Arts and Culture… She met a remarkable researcher, Jean Ghata, and suddenly found herself in a different world. Among the medical and the academic communities, she flourished and became who she is.
After years of excessive and intense social life, here are Chillida, Miró, Bram Van Velde, all the great painters of the Maeght Foundation. It was the culmination of all her ambitions, a man she loves, a man she admires, who introduced her to painting and to all sorts of music, from Handel, Mozart or Beethoven, and whenever she saw him speaking among the Nobel Prize laureates, the leading scientists, the great poets, a sense of pride stirred up in her, and her only prevailing thought was ” I want to grow old with him, I want to grow old with him! “. When he left, it was madness; she went completely crazy. Venus felt the exile, the loneliness believing there is a curse on her as if she is doomed to live alone. But she is originally from Besharre, the village of Gebran Khalil Gebran and the land of Cedars; she is therefore unbreakable…Doesn’t she always repeat that “men are like trees although they walk contrary to the tree which spends its life in a same place facing in the same direction?”
The day her first book was published, she thought the whole world was hers. When she was once selected for the National Book Award, she had to tour 12 universities and institutes, French and American, in the United States. The moment she saw her books in bookstores, she said “Oh girl, you came from a village in Northern Lebanon where they run barefoot on pebbles, on the shingle, jumping creeks, you come from a village where they pick up snakes on sticks and scare shopkeepers people in the street”, and now that she has been through all these villages, all these cities, she comes to Paris, it’s not enough.. she published in all European countries; and now, she is in America! It was for her a real drink..
Today, when she thinks back of her years in Beirut, she realizes how fake that life was. It amuses her to believe that she could be loved … In fact, she has not been loved but she perhaps enjoyed a game which was not authentic. The authenticity came later with the austere life she lead- the living, the working, the sharing of thoughts with the most influential people in writing and painting, and the meetings with people discussing books, journalists, writers, people from television and radio. Instead of pleasing, she had to write things that would please. “At what time and when shall I give candlelight dinners, buy beautiful evening dresses, put makeup on, and have a haircut? I would love to find that time. I changed and became another human being. I sleep with books, wake up with books”, she constantly repeated.
When I asked her whether the dream or the reality prevails in her life, she answered: “Certainly the dream, I’m a big dreamer, I’m still full … I’m much more in the dream than in reality because if I see reality, I would say “My God, what have I done wrong in my life to end up like that, with only two cats sleeping in my bed with my kids away from me…it is terrible to have 4 children when none of them is around you, it’s a fiasco Ricardo, isn’t it?”
Venus Khoury-Ghata won the prestigious 2011 Goncourt Prize for poetry. In Lebanon, the Media hardly mentioned the wonderful news. Stories of our “remarkable” singers are much more important. Well, this is Lebanon of today. Nothing has changed. Actually, it can’t be worse and definitely wouldn’t get any better.
Avec mon amitié et mes remerciements pour une des rares interviews que j’ai pris plaisir à faire
En appréciation d’un dialogue (en 6 parties jusqu’à maintenant) fort et important et particulièrement constructif
Thank you for the wonderful moments, for the magical questions and may God bless you