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.


Unknown said...

beautiful, you so made me want to read the novel!!
I love the quote about the tree. Well-chosen quotes indeed. Love it =)

Asrar Anwar said...

I have a signed copy of this book :D

faithianess said...

Thank you... I had the same feeling after finishing the book too: I was zombie-like for the next 36 hours. Love the quotes you shared. God bless.