Palestinian story with a lot of soul

2010-05-26 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Mornings in Jenin

Susan Abulhawa

Bloomsbury

MORNINGS in Jenin tells the harrowing story of Amal, a girl born into a Palestinian family already exiled in a refugee camp in Jenin. Amal has two brothers, but one of them she has never met. He was stolen from their mother’s arms by an Israeli soldier as the family was running for their lives from the village of Ein Hod, to be mothered by a barren Jewish woman. But that’s not the last they see of him as he returns to the novel later as a Jewish soldier.

Amal’s mother never recovers from her loss and is reduced to a grief-stricken shadow of what she once was. So Amal is forced to make her own way in life, and the reader follows her through school, her career in the United States and to the love of her life and motherhood. An independent thinker and a survivor, she succeeds but eventually finds the pull of Jenin hard to resist and returns.

The title comes from her morning practice as a child of sitting snuggled in her father’s arms on the rooftop. Her father reads aloud to her, smoking his pipe, as they watch the colours change and the sun rises on Jenin. The evocative scene stands out with poignant clarity.

I know little of the experience of the displaced Palestinians and the torture and raw brutality they have suffered at the hands of Israel, but this book has opened a window for me now and I want to know more. I know that the experiences her fictional characters suffer are more truth than fiction for I have seen the bloodied pictures of the atrocities committed there by the Jews.

Abulhawa is a great story teller and writes from the experiences of those she has encountered, imbuing them with a chilling realism and a whole lot of soul. Mornings in Jenin is the kind of book we all need to read more of to awaken us to the plight of ­others and to tell their stories, to a world that has largely turned their backs. What I found chilling was the hopeful theme among the refugees that the world would wake up and help them. Sadly, no one cared enough to do anything pragmatic to help.

For readers who like me have no grasp of the lingo of the area, there is a glossary at the back of the novel which I only discovered after reading the book. But this would be very helpful to use as this brilliant story unfolds. Well worth reading.

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