This is the first English-language epic novel to comprehensively express the Palestinian tragedy. Susan Abulhawa is a Palestinian-American and the novel starts shortly before the ethnic cleansing of 1947/1948 in a village near Haifa and it follows a family driven out of their village to a refugee camp in Jenin.
It covers the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, the refugee camp massacres in Beirut and finally the Jenin refugee camp massacre of 2002. It is a great interpenetration of fiction and documentary. Although the subject matter is necessarily political, it remains a great work of fiction and the characters are not ciphers for a political message. The main character’s first menstruation and first kiss are as important as the first time she has a gun pointed at her. There are interesting Jewish characters, one who has been a friend of the family since before 1947, escaping fascism in Germany, and another who is an Israeli soldier who discovers he was taken from Palestinian parents and brought up as Jewish.
These things have happened. There are brothers born to a Palestinian father and a Jewish mother so that by Muslim law they’re Muslim and by Jewish law they’re Jewish, and one became a Hamas activist and the other a right-wing settler and apparently they all get on really well. This book is not an ‘us and them’ rant. It recognises complexity.
Palestinians have a strange stateless existence like the Jews had in the past. They can’t really own anything, can’t invest in land because it will be taken away or in business because it will be destroyed, so they invest in education and culture. As the land disappears from under their feet their identity as a nation paradoxically grows stronger and stronger because it can’t be based in land or money.
And now, a few questions to the author Susan Abulhawa
Susan, this is a very passionate book about a suject clearly close to your heart. How much of it was autobiographical? In the earlier iterations, more of the book was autobiographical than what ended up being the final version. but as the writing progressed, the characters took over and told their own story. The final creation drew from people I knew growing up, stories I heard, read. Only one chapter in the book is truly autobiographical. It is called “The Orphanage” and is based three years of my life lived at Dar el Tifl el Araby in East Jerusalem. I took some liberties with the characters, but they are all based on real people. Your book contains the story of an Israeli, too, and his conflicting emotions; how did it feel to have to write the story of someone on the other side of what your family has experienced? Did it make you empathise with or resent him? In fact there are several Israeli characters, not just one. So, I’m not sure which one you’re referring to. There’s Ari, Moshe, Jolanta [although guessing you dont’ mean her since you referred to “his”], David, Jacob, unnamed soldier at the beginning and the end in Jenin. To varying degrees, I fell in love with all the characters in this book and I tried to tell their truth as honestly as i could. I did not set out to intentionally demonize or to humanize for that matter. I didn’t seek to make judgments. I merely wanted to tell a story. A far as what you refer to as “the other side”, do you mean that to encompass Israelis in general? Jewish people in general? I’m not sure. but i will say that what I view as the ‘other side’ includes injustice, racism, a legislated sense of inherent or genetic superiority, oppression, and the inhumanity of all these things. That said, no, I cannot empathize with the other side. What would you like people to take away from your book? Did you have a message you wanted to get across when you began? I hope the ultimate message of this story is one of love, in many forms
What sort of feedback have you had from people who have read your book? Has any of it been unexpected? I received letters that made me tear up. I am especially gratified when reading my book reminds people of our common humanity; when I hear from young Palestinians who tell me that Mornings helped them understand their parents better; Israelis who tell me they understand their neighbors better; westerners who never conceived of a Palestinian narrative, much less a valid one, thanking me for helping them see things they’d not have otherwise. There have been others who have branded me an anti-Semite, but that was not unexpected.
If you could say one thing to anyone thinking of reading Mornings in Jenin, what would it be? Read it!
fonte: The Book Whisperer https://boofsbooks.wordpress.com/