Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mornings in Jenin - Susan Abulhawa

I haven't read a book that reduced me to tears in so long. Reminiscent of Kanafani's 'Return to Haifa', the novel moves you so deeply with heartbreakingly beautiful story-telling of a family forced to leave their home, village and belongings to a refugee camp in Jenin.

I started reading it on a Friday morning, I spent three hours in bed with the book. I was ready for something sad, I was ready to get depressed. I didn't know what I was in for though, the tragedies the family had to undergo were beyond anything I could imagine. The story mainly focuses on Amal; her childhood in the refugee camp of Jenin with her best friend Huda, her relationship with her parents, being orphaned, studying abroad, being reunited with her brother, starting her own family and all the losses she has to witness in her lifetime. They make her shut the world outside, even the one closest to her heart, she gets to understand why Dalia, her mother, wasn't able to shower her with love. This sort of explains it:

"Sorrow gave Dalia an iron gift. Behind that hard shelter she loved boundlessly in the distance and privacy of her solitude, safe from the tragic rains of her fate."

Love has a strong presence in the book, the love of the land, of your family, your friends, and there was the "once in a life time" love, some stories were more believably than others but you still enjoy reading it all. Love can blossom anywhere, and as Gibran says "the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain", it seems as though those who've gone through a tragedy experience a love like no other, they understand what loss means, having no home and still one awaits her lover years even though he gave her no reassurance whatsoever, and then there's a sweet teenage love that grows as strong as ever. 

"They talked, less for meaning than to hear the other's voice."

I enjoyed the first half of the book the most, there was a lot of innocence that couldn't yet be taken away. The second half turned more political, and a bit bleak though a lot of loose ends were tied so to speak. Jenin being revisited by Amal, how her daughter makes her see things in different ways, how she opens up again. The sweet tears of being free of things you held on to, sharing them with no one else till they ate you up from the inside. Humans have an amazing god-given capacity to endure, and the books speaks of that more than anything else. I loved how literature was infused here and there, you find a Gibran quote then a part of a Darwish poem. The writing style isn't that wow, but the author has her moments, a simple phrase as "my hair had turned into winter" will make you appreciate her words.

Of course, war was a dominating theme. I don't know what to say about the book to be honest, it's a lot of history, a story that needs to be read.  At the end, Fairouz was singing somewhere in Jenin and so I spent my last hour of the book listening to Fairouz, reading and crying at how things turned out to be in the end; the injustice... I can honestly say I'm glad I read it now, and as much as I wish to transfer my feelings into words I just can't seem to do it. So read these following quotes and get a feel of what the book's like:

"No one can own a tree," he continued. "It can belong to you, as you belong to it. We come from the land, give our love and labor to her, and she nurtures us in return. When we die, we return to the land. In a way, she owns us. Palestine owns us and we belong to her."

"I had an off desire to be a fish. I could live inside water's soothing world, where screams and gunfire were not heard and death was not smelled."

"War. The word detonates a baggage of dread, which I have lugged on my back since I was five years old. Since 1948, when war and I were formally introduced. It makes my blood run cold."

"To remain silent was to accommodate the possibility that it all was merely a nightmare."

"In that week I see how familiar words can break like glass and reassemble into goblins that waylay the mind with their claws."

"I am damaged, of no use to the people I love. I'll die if I stay here. But something in me remains afire. Something that refuses to break, insists on a fight."

"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. I have tried to use my mind and my heard to keep our people linked to history, so we do not become amnesiac creatures living arbitrarily at the whim of justice."

"Our language was Palestine. It was a language we dismantled to construct a home."

Thank you Ammar.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Flutters of a Soul

I'd like to spend all of today in bed. I'm struggling with writing, and I used to write whatever to get the flow but now I'm getting nowhere. I can't even finish a sentence I start. It's as if words want me to take some time, but I need them to comply to my whims. I have a scene I'd like to paint with words, of someone in a bath tub, paralyzed with fear of some sort so she can't move, she simply watches the droplets leaving her body. Her body won't answer the pleas of her mind to get out of there, so she's stuck with thoughts and a terrifying desire to be alone. I'm not sure how the scene ends, but that's the thing, the end sort of takes care of itself as you write and the feeling of repeating myself made that whole idea a draft that will probably never see the (virtual) light of day.
My consumption of chocolate has reached alarming levels, but I'm not one to go into the psychology of my behavior. I let that slide and simply respond to my cravings. Perhaps that's where my problem lies, not the chocolate cravings of course, but the fact that I let things slide without seriously thinking about them. I could argue and say that thinking is all I do, well that and waiting because we're all just waiting whether we realize it or not, alone or together, for the known or the unknown. The point is, some people aren't scared of where their thought leads them, but everyday I realize that I am. It could be because I surprise myself with how far I go with a thought. My character above would welcome her thoughts at that moment, she's alone and she can afford to look heavy hearted or to grin widely as she remembered something that made her happy. Perhaps what I do will have all sorts of implications. Till then, deal with life as it comes. Not that I'm in a position to give advice, even to myself. I'll change if I feel the need to, and believe me change, when it comes, it takes you off your guard.
Today I was told I'm interested in everything, because I said a certain course (psychology 101) seemed interesting. I'm not sure how my friend meant it, but it's perfectly true. I'm not sure I can claim that a virtue in any kind of way. If my interest was limited to certain things, then perhaps I'd know more. I don't act upon my interests, and isn't that a shame?
I'm going back to living in my head, that's what keeps me relatively sane. I'm not sure why I gave it up in the first place. Let's build up scenarios that will never happen, have witty conversations with questions we can never answer and dance on the meadows of nowhere; there'd be no music... I have a 'distorted image of reality'. Yet, I'm aware of more than I give away and you end up calling me oblivious.
Here, is just another place, just another time, just another soul, just another moment passing by.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro

My rating: 3/5

Ishiguro takes you to an alternative world, but the perfect phrase for his writing would be like somebody else said 'deceptive simplicity'. You think everything's so normal, till bit by bit you come across weird things like 'donations' and 'guardians' and 'carers', and it really takes you a lot to understand the whole thing. You're kept in the dark, like the main characters themselves. The writing style feels raw, he starts telling you a story then he goes back to tell you what led to it. It sort of feels like you're listening to him actually talking, that's how people usually tell stories in real life. I quite liked that about the book, though some might find it annoying.

I'd like to give it a 4 star rating, but I feel the novel was too specific. Ishiguro could have told us more about details, the little things, the years he'd simply skip and not mention at all, things we would have liked to know about the characters, he mainly said things which led to other things, things that kept the story going which is fine but then again it's just all one-sided. Another thing, the characters simply accepted whatever fate they were destined to. Their submission is depressing, and though it has a science-fiction element to it, it feels real. Perhaps because of the way the story is told. The novel does feel rushed which is a shame, but perhaps that's because the author's aiming at making us feel the impact of whatever happens, but if we got more reactions and more explanations then we'd fully comprehend the bigger picture.

When I think of that moment now, standing with Tommy in the little side-street about to begin our search, I feel a warmth welling up through me. Everything suddenly felt perfect: an hour set aside, stretching ahead of us, and there wasn't a better way to spend it. I had to really hold myself back from giggling stupidly, or jumping up and down on the pavement like a little kid. Not long ago, when I was caring for Tommy, and I brought up our Norfolk trip, he told me he'd felt exactly the same. That moment when we decided to go searching for my lost tape, it was like suddenly every cloud had blown away, and we had nothing but fun and laughter before us.

“I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it's just too much. The current's too strong. They've got to let go, drift apart. That's how it is with us. It's a shame, Kath, because we've loved each other all our lives. But in the end, we can't stay together forever.”

“I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel, world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go.” 

My first read on my Kindle, all thanks to Ammar. A book you can actually hold has a different feel to it, but I'm not complaining, I love my kindle.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Norwegian Wood - Haruki Murakami

My favorite Murakami books. I'd like to talk about it but I don't think I can, all I can say is that it got me thinking a lot.

Memory is a funny thing. When I was in the scene, I hardly paid it any mind. I never stopped to think of it as something that would make a lasting impression, certainly never imagined that eighteen years later I would recall it in such detail. I didn't give a damn about the scenery that day. I was thinking about myself. I was thinking about the beautiful girl walking next to me. I was thinking about the two of us together, and then about myself again. It was the age, that time of life when every sight, every feeling, every thought came back, like a boomerang, to me. And worse, I was in love. Love with complications. The scenery was the last thing on my mind.

It just happens that I'm made. I have to write things down to feel I fully comprehend them.

"I want you to always remember me. Will you remember that I existed, and that I stood next to you like this?"

"I can never say what I want to say. It’s been like this for a while now. I try to say something, but all I get are the wrong words-the wrong words or the exact opposite words from what I mean. I try to correct myself, and that only makes it worse. I lose track of what I was trying to say to begin with. It’s like I’m split in two and playing tag with myself. One half is chasing the other half around the big, fat post. The other me has the right words, but this me can’t catch her."

'What makes us the most normal," said Reiko, "is knowing that we're not normal.'

O.K., so I’m not so smart. I’m working class. But it’s the working class that keeps the world running, and it’s the working class that gets exploited. What the hell kind of revolution have you got just tossing out big words that working-class can’t understand? What the hell kind of social revolution is that? 

Thank you Noor, for feeding my Murakami obsession and sending me this book.