Dr Amin Jaafari is an Israeli Arab. He has put himself through medical school and now works in a Tel Aviv...moreIn three words: Emotive, touching, shocking.
Dr Amin Jaafari is an Israeli Arab. He has put himself through medical school and now works in a Tel Aviv hospital as a surgeon. He has a nice home in a nice part of the city, he and his wife Sihem attend dinner parties with their Israeli friends and are happy.
When a suicide bomber strikes in a crowded restaurant in Tel Aviv killing 19 people, including eleven children at a birthday party, the hospital is put on high alert and it’s all hands to the deck. Amin finally goes home exhausted to his wife, and assumes that her absense means that she is still with her Auntie in Nazareth. When Amin is woken only a few hours later by the police to tell him that his wife was killed in the blast and is suspected of being the suicide bomber, Amin’s life as he knows it is turned upside down….
The Attack opens with literally that – an attack. The confusion, the silence; it all seems to happen in slow motion and we are no more clued up than those in amongst the devastation: The opening chapter is incredibly powerful.
Having lived in Israel back in the early-mid nineties (I regularly mention it on my blog as it made such an impression on me and I am still pretty obsessed with all things Israeli) I am drawn to books like this. The media, righly so, reports on the happenings in Israel as they happen but what we don’t see is what goes on behind the scenes, and after the worlds cameras have left: What we don’t see is the shattering devastation that affects everyone else. The victims of the bombs, their families and friends, the survivors, but also those of the relatives of the suicide bomber whose lives will never be the same again either. The author, in my opinion, did a good job as putting both sides of the story across. I say “good” job as I feel that it is slightly weighted in favour of the Arab view point but let’s not forget where the author is from. Yasmina Khadra is the nom de plume for former Algerian officer Mohammed Moulessehoul and I feel (as the blurb on the back of the book states) he “rarely sits in judgement”. Despite the book starting with the killing of 19 Israelis, the book really centres around the suicide bomber, Sihem, and what drove a wealthy, priveledged wife of a well respected surgeon to carry out such a act.
Amin Jaafari, unable to believe what has happened or why, sets out on a journey to make sense of what he can’t believe is true and in doing this we are also taken on a journey of discovery with him which leads us through Bethlehem and Nazareth and the camps in Jenin as Sihems story unfolds. What Khadra has done is allowed us to see the other side of what gets reported – the anguish and disbelief felt by Amin as he slowly unravels a side of Sihem he didn’t know about:
“There must have been a moment, there must have been a sign, and I want to remember it, don’t you understand? I have to remember it. I have no other choice. Since I got that letter I’ve been constantly rooting around in my memories, trying to find the right one. Whether I’m asleep or awake, it’s all I think about. I’ve passed everything in review, from the most unforgettable moments to the least fathomable words and the vaguest gestures; nothing. And this blank spot is driving me crazy. You can’t imagine how much it tortures me, Kim. I can’t go on like this, pursuing it and suffering it at the same time.”
While all the time going through the mental torture that he does, Amin is also subjected to abuse from those he used to live amongst:
“Is that how people say thank you, you dirty Arab? “
“Look at the house you live in you son of a bitch. What more do you have to have before you learn to say thanks?”
As the story moves along, it is hard not to see things from both perspectives as I believe that Kharda has done a great job of allowing us this privelidge and I found my emotions swinging between the two sides with regularity: the high passions, the feelings of utter helplessness, the no hope for the future, the tit-for-tat of both sides.
If you’ve ever wondered what happens after the cameras stop rolling then read this book: it’s a great insight into how this clash of civilisations continues to roll. Just don’t look for answers; you won’t find them here.
I found this a really interesting book and certainly one that had me turning those pages; the very nature of the content and the fact it’s a true stor...moreI found this a really interesting book and certainly one that had me turning those pages; the very nature of the content and the fact it’s a true story is the books forward momentum.
The story begins in 1979 when Jacky goes on holiday to Egypt with her then boyfriend whom she gets separated from when they try to get off a bus in Cairo. Jacky finds herself alone, with a twisted ankle, in a residential area and is picked up by two young Egyptian men who escort her into the nearest appartment where she is welcomed by the family who nurse her until she can walk again. The appartment is small and Jacky can only communicate with the 15 year old daughter who is learning English at school but she is drawn to Omar, one of the older brothers and even though they can’t speak to each other there is clearly a mutual attraction. Over the next two weeks the family take Jacky on outings around Cairo and further afield and Jacky finds herslef falling in love with the family and also with Omar (they both discover that they can just about communicate to each other in French and their friendship blossoms). Before the holiday is over, Omar has not only proposed to Jacky and talked his family but they have also married.
Over the next eight years in Cairo, the once mild mannered and loving Omar changes into a controlling and angry man who beats his wife on an almost weekly basis and makes her life a living hell. The conditions and squalar that her and her children are forced to live in is a world away from the life she knew back home and rather than upset her parents she writes home about the good life that she is living and how happy she is.
The book opens with Jacky and her two children’s attempted escape back to England, from Cario to the Israeli border. There are so many challenges along the way that even though the escape has been long planned down to the minutest detail, we are still routing for her and wondering if she will actually make it. The answer doesn’t come until the end of the book.
Having lived and worked in the Middle East and spent a lot of time in Egypt, books of this nature do interest me. This is one of the better ones, I feel, as it is written in a way that is accessible to all (it sometimes has the feel of a YA book in its narrative, which I actually think is a good thing -allowing it to be read and understood by different audiences).
The book is the story of what happened to Jacky in the early 80′s and it is possible that things have changed since then (with more access to media from across the world) but even so this is a pretty stark warning to think before you act.
Before I Say Goodbye is the story Jerusalem one rainy morning and those who woke up, each ready to go about their daily routines as they do every morn...moreBefore I Say Goodbye is the story Jerusalem one rainy morning and those who woke up, each ready to go about their daily routines as they do every morning….
Myriam is an 18 year old Isreali Jew who is still in shock after losing her best friend, Michael, to a suicide bomber only two months ago. She is trying to make sense of the world she lives in and on this day she makes a decision – to choose life.
Dima is an 18 year old Palestinian girl who is top of her class and about to get married. She is also disillusion with life and can see no future for her or her people and she makes a decision – to choose death.
Abraham is an Israeli Jew, married with children and works as a security guard. On this morning he recieves his job from the agency – a post in a local supermarket.
Ghassan is a 23 year old Palestinian expolsives expert. Today he is scouting for a place for his latest recruit (an 18 year old girl) to blow up – he chooses a supermarket.
The book starts at 7am that morning and each short chapter follows each of the characters about their daily business, hour by hour, and discovers their thoughts, feelings and experiences of living in Jerusalem. Not a word is wasted; the narrative is clear, concise and striking. I don’t claim to know much about translating but whatever the original italian was like, translator Alastair mcEwan has done a wonderful job. I felt involved in the story.
What I particularly like about this book is that it doesn’t take sides. There is no bias, no judgement; just a beautifully written account of one of the saddest and oldest conflicts in the world. It’s an important subject, beautifully executed in a way that makes it accessible to everyone. Politics and history aren’t prevalent but human emotion is.
What a wonderful yet hearbreaking ride this book was. Firstly, I’ll start with the fact that as soon as I saw the cover and title of this book I knew...moreWhat a wonderful yet hearbreaking ride this book was. Firstly, I’ll start with the fact that as soon as I saw the cover and title of this book I knew I had to read it. In 1993-94, I answered an add in the paper to go and work as an Au Pair for a family in Israel. I can’t explain why Israel, there were hunderds of adds for France, Italy, USA etc and one solitary add for Israel. As a child at school we were asked to pick a country to do a project on and I picked Israel. I’m not Jewish, nor am I Muslim but I just knew I wanted to go; something about this country fascinated me. I worked for an American Jewish family in a rich town 20 minutes north of Tel Aviv. My days were spent with school runs, lunches and play dates for 4 children under the age of 10. My weekends, however, were my own. Every single weekend for the entire time I was there was spent exploring that beautiful country (with other friends I had made). Jerusalem was and still is my favourite place in the whole world; a Palestinian run hostel in the Old City became my home for months one end, and I made friends from all walks of life who took us to Tiberius, Golan Heights, Ein Gedi, Haifa, Acre, Eilat and everywhere inbetween. I knew the country better than I knew my own and even all these years later, I think back often to my life then and remember with both fondness and passion the country that was my home for two years. I have read lots about the Middle East, Israel in particular but this is one of the first fiction (based on many facts) book that I have read from a Palestinian point of view. I was really looking forward to reading it and I was not disappointed.
The book starts in the beatutiful village of Ein Hod in 1940’s Palestine and centres around the Abulheja family who live a happy life with their two sons, their beloved horses and lovingly tended rose garden. They work the land and harvest olives in the surrounding hills for a living. The oldest son, Hassan, marries a free-spirited bedouin girl called Dalia who quickly becomes a part of the family and their first child, Yousef, is born to the delight of the family. A few years later, Ismael is born and when he is still a baby, Yousef tries to comfort the crying child and accidentally drops him, scarring his face down one side.
In 1948 their life as they know it is over. The newly formed Israeli army, after accepting the hospitality of the locals for food, bombs thier little village without warning. Many people were killed and those who were left were made to march out of the village, in what they are standing up in, and walk towards Jenin. In the confusion that followed, Dalia has Ismael snatched from her.
“The villagers sat on the ground in the valley. The land was as beautiful and peaceful as it had always been. Trees and sky and stone and hills were unchanged and the villagers were dazed and quiet, except Dalia. She was mad with anguish, questioning people and uncovering other women’s babies in the hope of revealing a boy with a scar down his right cheek, around his eye. She searched with frenzied foreboding, even though Yehya tried to reassure her that someone had picked up the child and surely it was only a matter of time before they would be reunited”
The following chapters are the families time in the quickly put-together refugee camp in Jenin where they try to rebuild some sort of life for themselves. In this time Dalia gives birth to a daughter called Amal, who becomes our narrator for most of the book. She takes us through her life in the refugee camp; the horrors, the friendships, and the losses. She talks about times that often occured, like the overflowing of the open sewers and the smell being so bad that they had to sleep on the roof. But even in this she recounts the naive dreams of hers and her friends:
“Vile as the experience and subsequent cleanup were, Huda and I could not contain our excitement and anticipation at being allowed to sleep on the roof to escape the foul odour. Other children did the same, and we filled the air with calls, jokes and giggles of young refugee souls. We were naively full of dreams and hope then, blessedly unaware that we were the worlds rubbish, left to tread in its own misery and excrement. There on the flat rooftops, we offered up our wishes and secrets to the starry Mediterranean sky.”
Amal was 12 years old when the war of 1967 came to Jenin. She watched those around her die as she hid in a hole beneath the kitchen floor. The refugee camp that her relaties and friends had tried so hard to build, was flattened. Amal leaves the camp not long after the six day war and takes us with her as she starts a new life in Jeruslem, America, Lebanon and back to Jenin. Her story is heartbreaking and powerful. Susan Abulhawa’s anger is clear in the pages, as is her love for her country, Palestine. She brings to our attention another massacre in Jenin in 2002 that the world barely got to hear about. It was covered up.
I asked myself many times during reading this book “how could this happen?” It’s almnost beyond belief that human beings can do this to each other, yet they do.
“There is no reason or logic. I was twenty years old and they gave me total power over other human beings, Amal”
Although this book is only 330 pages long, it felt like an epic to me. I have spent 60 years with this family, watching them love, loose, fight, cry. I’m going to miss them. I cried at the end – not just because of their story but because of all the other thousands of peoples story – real people.
I have tried not to be biased in this review; there are two sides to every story. The Israelis have their tale to tell too. But this book is about the Palestininans, and their story. It’s high time their voices were heard.
If you are interested in knowing more, Susan Abulhawa, the author of Mornings in Jenin, has very kindly agreed to an author interview on my blog http://boofsbookshelf.com which will be coming soon.(less)
What a lovely little book. Twain explores what it could have been like for two very different people to discover the odd world around them and he does...moreWhat a lovely little book. Twain explores what it could have been like for two very different people to discover the odd world around them and he does it with much humour. Watching both Adam and Eve play their sterotypical roles to perfection is redemed by Twain’s humour; Adam wanting to do nothing but build things and Eve wanting to do nothing but talk (much to Adam’s dismay) is both funny and lovable. Eve wants to discover everything; she names all the animal and mothers them all, she delights in every new thing she discovers.
Entry from Adam’s diary: “Perhaps I ought to remember that she is very young, a mere girl, and make allowances. She is all interest, eagerness, vivacity. The world to her is a charm, a wonder, a mystery, a joy. She can’t speak for delight when she finds a new flower; she must pet it and caress it and smell it and talk to it and pour out endearing names upon it. And she is colour mad: brown rocks, yellow sand, gray moss, green foliage, blue sky – the pearl of the dawn, the purple shadows on the mountains, the golden islands floating in crimson seas at sunset, the palid moon moon sailing through the shredded cloud-rack, the star-jewels glittering in the wastes of space.”
How wonderful to be able to look at the world through those fresh eyes and see so much beauty in it. That part was as beautiful as it was amusing to see Adam’s confusion to why she is so in awe of everything.
When Adam comes home from a few days trip away he finds Eve with something can he is convinced is a fish until he put it in the water to see and it sank. He then decides that it must be both kangaroo and bear before finally settling on the fact that it may be one of them. As well as Cain and Abel, the couple go on to have 7 more children (two of them named Gladys and Edwina!). Their long life togehter inc ludes their first experience of death and not understanding it, and their unconditional partnership until Eve finally goes to her grave.
“The nightmares made their rounds ages ago. The tossing and whimpering are over. Even the insomniacs have settled down. The twenty restless bodies re...more “The nightmares made their rounds ages ago. The tossing and whimpering are over. Even the insomniacs have settled down. The twenty restless bodies rest, and faces aged by hunger, grief, and doubt relax to reveal the beauty and the pity of their youth. Not one of the women in Barrack C is twenty-one, but all of them are orphans.”
This is the opening paragraph to this book and as soon as I read it I knew I was going to become a part of these womens lives for the next 300 pages: I had already lost my heart to them.
The book is set in a place called Atlit, a camp just outside the town of Haifa for detaining new arrivals after WW2 and before the state of Israel is declared. The people inside Atlit are mainly European Jews who have fled the places that killed their families and friends and tried to kill them, and turned to Palestine for a new life. There are four main characters in Day After Night: Tedi is a Dutch survivor who hid for much of the war and was raped repeatedly by the son of the family who hid her, Leonie is Parisian and survived by becoming a German soldiers prostitute after her family was killed, Zorah only just survived several years in a concentration camp and Shayndel from Poland hid in the forests for years as part of the resistence, killing soldiers where they could and marching people towards Palestine.
One of the things I liked about this book was that there was no really unecessary detail about what happened to the four girls in the holocaust. We see glimpses of their past, but more with a view to helping us see them as they are now, without gratuitous or sensational detail. It is important that we, as the reader, understand that these girls had an unspeakably horrific past but the book is not about the holocaust per se, but about what happened to them once they got to “The Promised Land”; how they were again detained behind barbed wire fences, with armed sentires in watch towers, knowing nobody and with uncerain futures. The girls themselves didn’t want to share their past with their fellow detainees:
“She knew they were reluctanat to tell their own stories because all of them began and ended with the same horrible question: why was I spared? Everyone’s mother had been gentle and devout, every sister a beauty, every brother a prodigy. There was no point in comparing one family’s massacre to another’s. Every atrocity was as appalling as the next: Miriam’s rape, Clara’s murdered husband, Bette’s baby, who was suffocated so the rest of the family would not be discovered.It was unspeakable, so they spoke of nothing.”
One night, the girls are woken from their beds and partake in an escape from the barracks. They are freed by the Palmach (Isreali elite stike force) and rehomed in a kibbutz. That night all the girls finally sleep deelply and dream – it is like they have finally allowed themselves to dare to dream; to dare to believe that there may be a better life out there waiting for them. I always love Epilogue’s in a book: I have a need to know what happened to the characters I have grown to love, or at least travelled with for several hundred pages so I sighed with satisfaction at the end, of not only having just read a great book but also because I could put those girls to rest.
Although the characters in the book are made up, the actual story itself isn’t. Atlit still exists (although it is now a museum and education centre) and they really did break out, with the help of the Palmach on 9th October 1945. After walking through forrests and up steep hills all night they finally reached Beit Oren, a kibbutz, where they were homed for the night. When the British turned up the next day, some 4,000 residents from Haifa formed a human sheild around the kibbitz and the soldiers finally left. From there, the several hunderd espcapees were rehomed in various kibbutzim around Palestine. (less)