Mornings in Jenin – Susan Abulhawa

Even if you have no prior knowledge of the Palestine/Israeli conflict, Mornings in Jenin offers you the perfect introduction to this complex situation, giving many insights into how the Palestinian people have suffered since El Nakba (The Catastrophe) in 1947.  For Jewish people, 1947 was a time of celebration, the creation of the state of Israel, their new homeland; for Palestinians it was a time of mourning, as they were removed from their homes and became refugees.  Mornings in Jenin is the first commercial work of fiction written in English which examines a pro-Palestinian viewpoint and opens our eyes to injustices which we, in the West, have been sheltered from and/or have deliberately ignored.

It’s a story which spans six decades of the Palestinian Abulheja family, beginning in 1941 when the inhabitants of Ein Hod, a small village east of Haifa, commence the olive harvest.  Soon the rural idyll will be rudely interrupted by the bombing raids of Zionists, intent on creating a blank canvas for their new homeland.  The Abulheja family are relocated to Jenin, a refugee camp in the West Bank whilst French Jewish artists move into their abandoned village.  During the march, Dalia loses her infant son, Ismael who has been snatched by an Israeli soldier.  Tragedy upon tragedy are piled upon this family, as Dalia’s daughter Amal is permanently scarred by gunfire from an Israeli sniper and her other son, Yousef, leaves the camp to join the PLO.  Most of the story focusses on Amal as she moves from Jenin to an orphanage school in Jerusalem, to a college scholarship in America, to Lebanon – always on the move,  longing to return to her homeland. 

Yes, this is written from a Palestinian perspective but when the author does introduce Jewish characters, they are both human and humane, caught up in a conflict which they don’t understand either.  Sometimes we Westerners feel guilty of anti-semitism if we even show a smidgen of sympathy for the plight of Palestinians but we must abandon our black and white thinking and see past the military and political posturing to the human cost of war. 

Whilst not a perfect novel stylistically, tenses and points of view jump about distractingly, it is an important read as it highlights the humanity which we all share regardless of our politics or religion.  It’s very readable but also a very distressing novel as it shows a very ugly side to the human race and how we seem doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.  Perhaps recent events in the Middle East are a hopeful sign of change for the better?

If anyone can recommend any novels written from a pro-Israeli perspective (other than Exodus), please let me know.

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11 Comments

  1. Joanne says:

    This sounds like a good but hard read. Maybe something by David Grossman for another perspective?

  2. Ellie says:

    Definitely one for the wishlist. I feel I should learn a bit more about the conflict; it has been going on for some time I think we just take it for granted that it’s happening. I think a good novel will spark a bit of research interest from me.

  3. admin says:

    Joanne, The Yellow Wind looks promising, have you read any of his books?

  4. admin says:

    Ellie, I was spurred on to read this having read some non-fiction by Raj Shehadeh. It would certainly be interesting to see something from a pro-Israeli perspective also.

  5. Joanne says:

    I read See Under: Love a long, long time ago. What brought his name to mind is that I remember reading about him a couple of years ago when his son had been killed in action while serving in the Israeli army. I know he wrote a book about it, but I can’t remember the title.

  6. admin says:

    I read that about his son, Uri, Joanne – so very sad.

  7. Jackie says:

    I am currently reading Mornings in Jenin and pretty impressed with it. I personally feel that the Israeli side gets plenty of coverage, but Look for Me by Edeet Ravel is very good: http://www.edeet.com/look-for-me.html. A good read and quite nuanced.

  8. admin says:

    I must look out for that one, Jackie, thank you for the link. :-)

  9. Violet says:

    I almost bought this a while ago, but wasn’t that impressed with the writing style.

    I Shall Not Hate, by Izzeldin Abuelaish is non-fiction. It has been on my radar for a while.

    Book Depository

  10. lovelytreez says:

    It’s not great literature, Violet, but a very readable introduction for folk like me who aren’t familiar with the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I Shall Not Hate is going straight onto my wishlist – what an amazing man, to have endured so much yet still remain forgiving…

  11. I read this book last year, Treez, and loved it. I actually lived in Israel for 2 years back in the early-mid ’90′s so I love reading books set here. I also interviewed the author, Susan Abulhawa on my blog.

    Pro-Israeli would be David Grossman or Amos Oz. Would love to hear of any more from both sides worth reading though.

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