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No one can fully understand the pain or the situation of someone unless they have experienced the same circumstances and while our sympathy will be with them but never can we say with confidence “we know what you are going through”. Literature is the nearest thing we get to envisage, be it at a small scale of what others go through, so we have chosen ten books that can give you a slight idea of what it is like being a Palestinian.
In the Presence of Absence by Mahmoud Darwish
Any list of Palestinian literature must begin with Darwish. The beloved poet was a rock star in the Arabic literary world. His book readings filled soccer stadiums. While rightly adored for his poetry, Darwish also wrote fascinating prose. One of his most popular work, In the Presence of Absence, a strange and beautiful self-elegy in which the aging author addresses his younger self and tells him the story of his life to come.
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Palestinian American Hala Alyan’s debut novel follows the lives of a displaced Palestinian family over three generations. Alyan’s skills as a poet — she has published four poetry collections — are evident on every page. S
Palestine’s Children: Returning to Haifa and Other Stories by Ghassan Kanafani
Israeli agents assassinated author and political activist Ghassan Kanafani in 1972 with a car bomb. Ghassan wrote some of the Arab world’s best short fiction of the 1960s and early 70s. Returning to Haifa may be the most famous. The story follows a Palestinian couple as they return to the home they fled during the 1948 war. They discover the child they were forced to leave behind has been raised by a Jewish couple and is now an Israeli soldier.
The Book of Gaza: A City in Short Fiction edited by Atef Abu Seif
This collection of short stories by Gazan writers, many of whom are young women. The stories are diverse and often surprising, like Ghareeb Asqalani’s “A White Flower for David” which relates the affection between an Israeli and Palestinian family, or the startlingly erotic piece by Najlaa Ataallah titled “The Whore of Gaza.” Each story opens a tiny window on life in contemporary Gaza — a place, these stories would suggest, is hated and loved in equal measure by those trapped behind its walls.
I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti
Mourid Barghouti brings his poet’s eye to this memoir of returning to Palestine after a 30 year separation. The book spins back and forward through time and memory, bringing readers to Barghouti’s childhood village, his Egyptian exile, and to the wooden bridge that leads him back to Palestine as a grown man, husband and father.
In Search of Fatima by Ghada Karmi
Fatima was the Karmi family’s much-loved governess or nanny. This is a memoir of violent uprooting and dislocation, presented in an intimate and very personal way. The Karmis were one of the wealthy Palestinian families of Jerusalem who overnight became penniless [in 1948 during the creation of the State of Israel] and left their home complete with furniture, pictures, food, everything – at that time Jewish families literally walked down the street and picked out the homes that they wanted. The family ended up in the UK and Fatima was left behind with her family. They never saw her again.
Out of Place by Edward Said
Edward Said has a very special place in every Palestinian heart. This is a very intimate book about his young life. His parents were domineering or distant and he talks about always feeling stranded, left behind, out of place.
In the Land of My Birth: A Palestinian Boyhood by Reja-e Busailah
In the Land of My Birth recounts the coming of age of a blind Palestinian boy of modest milieu during the turbulent years leading up to the fall of Palestine in 1948. Above all, it is about the boy’s life and his struggles to make his way in the sighted world, his upbringing, schooling, friendships, and adventures. It is a compelling human story with a mine of information on popular culture and customs, the educational system, and Palestinian life.
The fact that the memoir unfolds largely in real time, with events, conversations, and situations recounted not retrospectively but as they are experienced, provides a rare window on the political attitudes, social views, legends, prejudices, perceptions and misperceptions of ordinary Palestinians at the time, unmediated and unvarnished. Essential reading for anyone interested in the cultural, social, and political history of Palestine, the condition of blindness, and the education of the blind
Where the Bird Disappeared Ghassan Zaqtan
This lyrical novel, set in the surroundings of the Palestinian village of Zakariyya, weaves a narrative rich in sensory detail yet troubled by the porousness of memory. It tells the story of the relationship between two figures of deep mythical resonance in the region, Yahya and Zakariyya, figures who live in the present but bear the names—and many traits—of two saints. Ranging from today into back to pre-1948 Palestine, the book presents both a compelling portrait of a contemporary village and a sacred geography that lies beyond and beneath the present state of the world.