This is a very disappointing book. There are numerous structural and stylistic weaknesses. A fair number of the characters are two-dimensional figures,...moreThis is a very disappointing book. There are numerous structural and stylistic weaknesses. A fair number of the characters are two-dimensional figures, symbols or mouthpieces rather than agents of the action. Only the love affair between Jacky and Neri has a life of its own, but that is narrated in too corny a style for such a politically charged topic. It often read like Harlequin/Mills&Boon romance. On the other hand, the political discussions between the rest of the cast of characters will bore the pants off most readers. The barrage of factual details explaining the arguments on either side of the conflict takes up too much space in the narrative and there is not much of an original "story" there to maintain the reader's interest. The political talking points and "wikipedia" explications may even likely confuse anyone not already familiar with the basic timeline of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, besides boring them. Unfortunately the author gets carried away by her obsession to include every possible supporting point to the argument, and in doing so, she ends up "telling" rather than "showing." In fact, she just can't control the outright "telling." There is too much enumerating of the facts at the most unlikely moments in the story, and the author loses sight of the novel's bigger picture. By extension, the readers miss out on a good grasp of the novel's point of view, and by the end, must be "told" by the narrator what that is. Also, I could discern a fair number of instances where the author's lack of understanding of Palestinian history, culture, and political positions is evident. There is a dangerous lack of clarity throughout the text concerning the distinctions between "Palestinian" "Arab" "Bedouin" and "Islamic" which sometimes overlap or are selected at random -- which might cause readers to misunderstand certain issues or to misinterpret certain events, through the fallacy that these terms are interchangeable and therefore equivalent. For me, the descriptions of the non-Israeli characters border on caricatures. Anyone wishing to analyze the novel for its rampant "orientalizing" will have a field day. I can enumerate many instances. The most dangerous one though is the discussion between the Israeli and American characters (who happen to be academics) regarding European/Jewish modernity and the dangers/drawbacks of Arab cultural/social/technological backwardness. Yes, the author has her characters say Arabs are in the "medieval" and "middle ages" several times. Hello? The Holocaust was perpetrated by one of the most, if not the most, educated and technologically advanced society of its time. And even if it were sociologically/anthropologically accurate -which it isn't- that Arab society is "backward" this insinuation (even though merely an expression of the fictional characters) by its very inclusion in the text is counterintuitive, as it goes against the thesis that the novel, in fact, is attempting to make in the end (more on that below). My main gripe though is also a very simple one: If I was to read a book titled "Slavery" or "Abolition," let's say, I would expect to read a book that has at least some part of the narrative concerned with that specific historical period (eg, Roots), and not a story about racial tensions in Harlem or Chicago of today -- with no narrative connection to the historical time period referenced in the title. If the story were to be set primarily in the present time, I would expect to see in the book at least a single scene, or some clearly defined connection between the narrative's "now" and the "then" referenced in the title, connected/related in some way. Paradoxically, Al-Naqba is set completely in the present time, with no narrated descriptive passage, flashback or recounted memory (to name a few standard narrative fiction techniques) taking the reader back in time in a three-dimensional/illustrated manner to a depiction of the Naqba itself in any way, shape or form. The word is reduced to an abstraction, never made real and tangible to the reader. Did I say the author has a problem with not knowing how to "show" rather than "tell"? Hardly any content of the book informs or illustrates for the reader anything substantial about the Palestinian catastrophe - the Naqba in question. The novel's timeline and plot covers only the present-day conflict. I fear that ultimately readers will only "see" in their minds these specific images (the present day terror attacks), and not the full picture, since they have been not been assisted in visualizing the Palestinian catastrophe in its continually evolving historical as well as human context. This is a glaring problem on several levels and it weakens any salient message the novel could have conveyed through its main thesis and/or its point of view. For me, the closing pages of the book felt like the narrator/author was preaching to the audience. Regardless of whether I as one specific reader agree or disagree with the author's point of view, the moralizing conclusions made in those final lines hardly follow from all that preceded in the novel. (less)
I was so looking forward to reading Jerusalem Spring, mainly because - like the author - I spent my formative years in Lebanon during the civil war an...moreI was so looking forward to reading Jerusalem Spring, mainly because - like the author - I spent my formative years in Lebanon during the civil war and, due to my father's job at the time, the complexities of the Middle Eastern conflicts are more familiar to me than my "own" country's history. Unfortunately I can't overlook the novel's literary shortcomings, and that is a shame, because there is potential here. The main problem, in my opinion, is the uneven structure of the novel. Two-thirds of the narrative is set in a time past, and the last segment doesn't adequately balance or complement the first section. The first two thirds did try my patience. I was reading on and on trying to get to some "substance"; a deeper meaning of it all seemed to elude me. Moral and existential issues were touched upon, but not fully developed. In the latter part of the novel, the narrative is by contrast rushed and almost summarily presented, with insufficient background explication or character development. For me it ends with a fizzle rather than a bang. In the first part the slow exposition gives the reader a sense of the crushing routine of the injustices, but because the later "Jerusalem" segment is brief, by comparison, the reader doesn't necessarily connect all the dots from racial segregation in the southern US to the human rights violations that Palestinians must endure in their current stateless & citizenshipless existence. (Here's my main objection of the novel's premise: This analogy is not a good one, historically and politically speaking.) As for the narrative's expository style, Jerusalem Spring reads like a transcript from court proceedings rather than a novel. The dialogue most of the time resembles an interrogation instead of a conversation between two characters. Admittedly, there is a power imbalance between the warden and his prisoners, so this is a plausible effect. But I'm not sure that this was the author's intention, at least not for the whole length of the novel. Even the scenes between Scott and his wife came off as formal, despite the words of endearment peppering their sentences. Maybe there's too much dialogue and not enough exposition. At some point I even wondered if Jerusalem Spring wasn't a novel in the conventional sense; instead, that it was meant as a quasi-religious parable, or a philosophical text implementing the "Socratic method" to lead the reader to a specific (moral) conclusion. This could explain the moralistic tone that another reader found overbearing. Personally, I didn't find the tone to be that moralistic or didactic overall. In fact, I sensed there was an attempt by the author to avoid making outright statements, especially on the Palestinian issue. The few exceptions being the neutral tone of "education is the way" and the political correctness of "we have the right to resist, but we don't have the right to attack civilians." The author seems to suggest that with education people will naturally come to understand as well as act for peace and justice. But even "peace" and "justice" are relative concepts (the devil always being in the details!) and this novel's/parable's conclusion comes off as a gross oversimplification. (less)
Despite its age, this volume (in the Time-Life series* Foods of the World, copyright 1969, revised 1971) is a well-researched introduction to the regi...moreDespite its age, this volume (in the Time-Life series* Foods of the World, copyright 1969, revised 1971) is a well-researched introduction to the region, spanning from Greece & Egypt all the way to Iran. The first chapter introduces the common elements of the cuisines of the nine nations that are covered in this travelogue, as the author (an American of Greek descent) discovers the landscape, the peoples, and the foods along the route. This is essentially why I treasure this old book - for the historical background, the explication of the culinary traditions uniting as well as differentiating the Middle Eastern cultures, and more than anything, the photographs that immortalize the people of the region as they prepare the food and consume it. In Greece, the focus is on the Easter festivities, in Turkey a farewell family feast, in Lebanon a stylish urban cocktail and mezze spread, in Jordan a Bedouin tent mansaf, in Iraq the archeological roots of the agricultural staples on which the region's cuisines are based, in Israel the multicultural origins of the colonial settlers, in Iran meals with tilemakers and carpetweaving craftsmen, in Egypt the street vendors.
* The main text is a hardbound album, and the majority of the recipes are printed in a separate spiralbound booklet (which I don't own). (less)
**spoiler alert** This is either a hoax or a badly written memoir, incompletely recalled by the subject of this story, or purposefully altered to prot...more**spoiler alert** This is either a hoax or a badly written memoir, incompletely recalled by the subject of this story, or purposefully altered to protect her identity. Some details just don't add up. Although the dynamics of the rural patriarchal family are spot on and the cruelty of the honor code is indisputable, there is something 'false' here that refuses to be dispelled.
My reactions are mixed. On the one hand I fully understand Souad's fate and the horrors of her experience. On the other hand, I feel that this book oversimplifies the circumstances of her life and her culture.
Any narrative, whether fictional, historical, or autobiographical, must attempt to explain the nature of its theme, even if that theme is cruelty and/or evil. I don't feel particularly enlightened after finishing the book.
Also, I disagree with Jacqueline, that when she is in the Middle East she, as an outsider, must 'respect' the local tradition, even if it is 'bizarre'. What is 'traditional' about Souad's village and family moral code? I have lived in the Middle East and know very well that what goes on in the affluent/urban areas is very different from what goes on in the destitute/rural areas. If a particular belief, or code of conduct was truly 'traditional' to a culture, it would apply throughout the region, regardless of the social, educational, or economic circumstances. From the testimony of my Middle Eastern acquaintances, Palestinian families who belonged to the educated urban class didn't enforce this 'tradition'. So I will have to say that these extreme moral codes are anomalies, rather the norm, as far as the Palestinians, other Middle Easterners (or even rural communities in Greece) are concerned.
To give another example, people say it is 'traditional' for women in Saudi Arabia not to have the right to drive. How can this prohibition be a 'tradition' or a 'cultural matter' when just across the border other Arab societies don't enforce the same restriction. Furthermore, these very same Saudi women are allowed by their families to drive, if they are outside of the country!
It is facetious to say we respect the 'cultural traditions' of a particular country or peoples when it is clearly not a 'tradition' but an oppression masquerading as tradition.
Souad's terrible ordeal is a product of a sexist/patriarchal belief system, but other social systems can be just as cruel and destructive. This can be exemplified by the extermination of individuals in Communist totalitarian regimes. Maybe it was for political reasons, rather than a code of honor, but the motivation & result is the same: Your behavior in some way disrupts the rule of order. You are sent to a gulag, or murdered outright, and any mention of you in the media & in history books is permanently expunged. All in the name of the powers that be, to preserve the status quo. And again, the silent ones are complicit in your fate.
I would like to concur with Souad's children; I feel that 'bearing witness' and 'empowerment' means going back to face your enemy, directly or indirectly, in some form or another. Souad says the most she is comfortable with is bearing witness by narrating her story for this book, rather than traveling to confront her family. It's her choice. I hope that some day her children (all three of them) eventually face their grandparents, aunts & uncles in the village for the sake & honor of their mother. (less)