Monday, January 27, 2014


Pages: 338
Date: 27/01/2014
Grade: 4.5
Details: Book Club Read

The blurb:

“Forcibly removed from the ancient village of Ein Hod by the newly formed state of Israel in 1948, the Abulhejas are moved into the Jenin refugee camp. There, exiled from his beloved olive groves, the family patriarch languishes of a broken heart, his eldest son fathers a family and falls victim to an Israeli bullet, and his grandchildren struggle against tragedy toward freedom, peace, and home. This is the Palestinian story, told as never before, through four generations of a single family.

The very precariousness of existence in the camps quickens life itself. Amal, the patriarch's bright granddaughter, feels this with certainty when she discovers the joys of young friendship and first love and especially when she loses her adored father, who read to her daily as a young girl in the quiet of the early dawn. Through Amal we get the stories of her twin brothers, one who is kidnapped by an Israeli soldier and raised Jewish; the other who sacrifices everything for the Palestinian cause. Amal's own dramatic story threads between the major Palestinian-Israeli clashes of three decades; it is one of love and loss, of childhood, marriage, and parenthood, and finally of the need to share her history with her daughter, to preserve the greatest love she has.”


My thoughts:

Sweet Jaysus, what a book. A book that will stay with me indefinitely. A story that will haunt me whenever I turn on the news and hear about another ‘incident’ in Palestine. This is a book that puts names and faces, be it fictional ones, to the thousands of people who have been massacred because one people needed a place to flee to and decided to take a land that was already inhabited by others.

In a story stretching nearly 60 years we follow one family as their lives changes beyond anything most of us can imagine. We see them lose the land and home that has been theirs for generations as well as a baby boy; everything taken by the Jewish need for land of their own, a place they may be safe after the atrocities of World War II.

We see a  young girl, born in the Jenin refugee camp grow up in captivity, surrounded by random but targeted violence as well as love, loyalty and the continued power to dream. We witness what love and loss can do to the human heart and spirit.

“In the process of trying to steady my gait in a life that shook with uncertainty, I learned to make peace with the present by unknowingly breaking love lines to the past.”

This is a book that will break your heart time and again and yet it is also a book filled with beauty. While the story shows how oppression, senseless violence, injustice and the loss of loved ones can and will turn light hearts heavy and make merciless killers out of ordinary people it also shows that amidst all the darkness, good can and sometimes does survive.

“We’re all born with the greatest treasures we’ll ever have in life. One of those treasures is your mind, another is your heart. And the indispensable tools of those treasures are time and health. How you use the gifts of Allah to help yourself and humanity is ultimately how you honor him.”

This is a book that will make you think about and question humanity. It made me wonder how the human mind is capable of excusing that which it condemned not much earlier.

“Jews killed my mother’s family because Germans had killed Jolanta’s”

If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never understand why people feel the need to inflict the pain they have suffered themselves onto others. It is something that has happened all through history and happens still both in small, private ways and in massive, headline making events. It is so clearly portrayed in this book it breaks your heart. The violence, hatred, pain and despair make this a very hard book to read. And to think that more than 60 years after the conflict was created it is still no nearer a solution; it makes me want to cry for the world and those who inhabit it.

There were quite a few times when this book felt more like a memoir than a novel.
Sections of the story would be finished with what felt like a summary of facts about the conflict in general rather than the characters’ stories. Those parts of the book read like non-fiction and would take me out of the narrative.

The shifting perspective was another element that would disrupt my reading. And while this structure made sense in so far as the individual characters had no way of knowing what was happening in each other’s lives most of the time, I think I would have been happier if the whole story had been told by a third-person omniscient narrator. It seems to me that such an approach would have made the reading more fluent and the sharing of facts less surprising.

A part of me feels that I should give this book five stars, if only because of the subject it deals with. And yet I can’t. While I can’t deny that this story took a hold of me and made all too real an ongoing conflict that in many ways had been abstract for me up until now, I can’t get away from the ease with which I could put the book down on several occasions.
Having said that, I also feel this book should be read by as many people as possible. It is important that this perspective on the conflict in the Middle East is seen by the world.

The following is one of the many pieces Amal’s father read to her before he disappeared and also a thought I have loved since I first read it years ago. I have no other reason for sharing it here.

On Children
Khalil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And he beds you with his might that his arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so he loves also the bow that is stable.

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