Jeanette 's Reviews > Mornings in Jenin

Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa
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May 03, 10

bookshelves: all-fiction, middle-east, four-star-fiction
Read in May, 2010

My takeaway message from this book is that women should be running the world.

The story follows four generations of the Palestinian Abulheja family and their friends. It begins in the 1940's when they are first driven from their ancestral lands in Ein Hod, continues through the war of 1967 and the Lebanon War of 1982, and concludes with the Israeli bulldozing and massacre at the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002. Theirs is a life of perpetual loss, perpetual grieving, and constant uncertainty.

The narrative doesn't quite find its stride until around page 185. Prior to that I didn't feel much connection with the characters. Somewhere around the point when Amal goes to Beirut, I started really caring about the people, and it seemed like the writing quality improved. The second half of the book has some pockets of movingly accomplished writing.

There are some oddities of style and structure, interrupted flow, and awkward changes in POV. In this regard, the book probably only merits 3 to 3 1/2 stars. I'm assigning a higher rating because the book enlightened me about a situation I've not encountered in other novels. I've been hearing about fighting in the Middle East since birth, such that it has become just so much background noise. Blah blah conflict in the Middle East blah blah blah...so what else is new? Always have, always will... This story made me recognize the tragic reality of those news stories for those who have lived amid the conflict for decades.


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Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

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message 1: by Jill (new)

Jill Will be curious about your take on this. Literary friends tell me it's VERY biased with a strong anti-Jewish slant. Seems as if Amazon reviewers either love it or hate it...


Jeanette Decidedly biased. VERY decidedly. Her parents were refugees of the 1967 war, so it's not surprising. It's fairly well written for a first novel, though.


Aamir People are not used to reading the narrative of a middle east refugee. Hence the difficulty in accepting it. A typical book on the subject would be written by an American visiting those poor creatures.

The fact that it is the account of a refugee, something not often read in US is itself a reason to read this book. If it is "biased" so is any book written by a victim of any war.


message 4: by Jill (new)

Jill When a book paints one side as "bad" and the other side as "good", it is more than a work of fiction, particularly when it touches on the incendiary Middle East. Compare this book to the Nobel-winning Wandering Star, where BOTH sides are presented respectfully. I have little patience with biased books that fan already inflamed emotions...or that present certain biases as "facts."


Aamir Fair enough. Wandering Star is an excellent book.

But I would rather compare "Mornings in Jenin" to "Kite Runner" which shows only the Afghan point of view. Both Kite Runner and Mornings in Jenin are narrations from the eyes of someone dispossessed by war. Neither book pauses to ask: "why was my family dispossessed?" Perhaps refugees cannot be asked to do so?

I think these books do an excellent job of introducing to the American audience a narration often missing from the mainstream. This is besides introducing a different style of writing and prose. I appreciate and understand that writers like Khalid Hosseini and Susan Abulhawa will ruffle a few feathers (often for people who never read the book), but good literature can do that! :-)


message 6: by Jill (new)

Jill Well, I think the comparison is a little disingenuous. The Kite Runner's "villain" is the Taliban, and I think all reasonable people can agree that the excesses of the Taliban deserve universal condemnation.

Mornings in Jenin, however, sets up "the Jews" as the bogeymen. Have there been excesses? Of course...on BOTH sides. But to compare the Jews to the Taliban? No way. Remember, they were victims, too, of what is arguably one of the worst genocides ever, and it was the Brits that divided the country.

Again, the Middle East is a complicated and incendiary topic. Feathers have already been ruffled. Presenting an extremely biased and one-sided view is not useful. OF COURSE, refugees can wonder why their family was dispossessed -- that is a valid question. But THIS author has a political agenda that goes far beyond empathizing with those who were hurt by the process...and by doing so, adds oil to the water.


Aamir I meant the Russians - the family was dispossessed by the Russians. Perhaps I should have clarified that, but since I was speaking in the context of dispossession, I thought that was clear.

Kite Runner does not spare a page for the Russian point of view or the point of view of the Afghans who supported the Russians (trust me, there were many in Kabul who did and still do! - Hosseini is not necessarily welcome in all Afghan communities for reasons similar to your points)

So, my point is not comparing conflicts or victims - but that it is an important to accept a narrative of a refugee. Sure, it could challenge some of our past learnings. But isn't good literature meant to do that? Kite Runner opened our eyes to that world of someone dispossessed in the middle east - Mornings in Jenin is a wonderful addition on the same track. I would also recommend "Age of the Orphans," a book about Kurds, which unsurprisingly has few takers in the Turkish and Iranian community :-)

Finally, lets agree to discuss the book on its merits (and not attack the author). I think that's only apt for literary circles.


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

This is a story written from the point of view of a family that was robbed of everything, repeatedly, for the simple fact that they were not Jewish. This is the reality of the Palestine-Israel conflict. The experience of Palestinians is not unlike the experience of any other group that has ever been oppressed, brutalized, ethnically cleansed from their homeland, dehumanized, and shattered in so many ways. Yet no one would ever consider a novel written by a Jew during WWII, a black South African during Apartheid, an African American pre Civil Rights Movement, etc. to be "biased" or "one sided". One need only look at the map to see that Israel has been engaged in a systematic effort to wipe Palestine off the map. http://irfanchemist.files.wordpress.c...
Israel has been accused of massive war crimes since its inception. It has been condemned by every single human rights organization that has ever conducted an investigation on the ground. It has a well-documented [by its own historians:] record of massacres, torture, and collective punishment against a principally unarmed civilian population. It has all but displaced the entire Palestinian Christian population [who, incidentally, are the original Christians:] and has relegated Palestinian society to living in ghettos surrounded by a menacing wall, endless checkpoints, barbed wire, and watch towers not unlike those of the Warsaw ghetto. At any given time Israel holds over 200 child prisoners in its jails, where children are held without charge or trial or access to their parents or a lawyer. Since the 1980s, the UN has said that Israel's protocols in the occupied territories are "war crimes and an affront to humanity". Various UN Special Rappatuers, from Richard Falk to Richard Goldstone [both Jewish:] have accused Israel of war crimes. The reality on the ground is far worse than Apartheid South Africa [this according to South Africans who lived through that dark era:]. the list goes on and on and yet you will insist that somehow Israel is not really so bad. That a novel, for once, that gives a tiny glimpse into what Israel has and continues to do to Palestinians is somehow not legitimate because its brutalized characters fail to find the virtues in a state that treats them like cattle?


message 9: by Jill (new)

Jill Susan, your comment is extraordinarily offensive and your facts are skewered. And the Palestinian suicide bombers? The ones who bombed innocent children? Puh-lease.

Aamir has entered this discussion with cordiality and he is obviously well-read. You, on the other hand, are sprouting borderline anti-Semitic tripe. Please spare us your over-the-top narrative. I could enlighten you with FACTS (for instance, read The Lemon Tree, which is a VERY fair non-fiction book about what occurred in the Mideast.) But I suspect that is not where you are coming from.


Jeanette Aamir wrote: "The fact that it is the account of a refugee, something not often read in US is itself a reason to read this book. If it is "biased" so is any book written by a victim of any war."

Precisely why I did not mention the bias in my review. I appreciated knowing how they FEEL about it and what they THINK, regardless of imbalance in point of view.

I am neither Jewish nor Palestinian, and did not intend to write an inflammatory review, but you all seem to be enjoying your discussion, so carry on.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

nowhere do you show how my facts are wrong. and criticizing a state in violation of nearly every tenet of international law and human rights is not anti-semitic. this slur has been used too often to silence anyone who dares to speak up in support the universality of human rights as they pertain to Palestine-Israel. I do not respect it nor do I, as a Semite, accept it. By your own admission, you have not even read the book you so vehemently denounce. What does that make you? fair?


message 12: by Jumana (new) - added it

Jumana we are not here to talk about whats right and wrong. Everyone is a different culture and everyone is different in many ways. Jill please keep your comments to yourself because you talking palestianians is very wrong not all are bad. What about the americans that are killing innocent little kids in the middle east, and there excuse is that there trying to kill the bad people. Last time i checked little kids are innocent. I'm not saying all american soilders are bad there are some out there that are good. I'm a palestianian and i do admit that there are bad palestians that are bad but not all are so get your facts straight.

My point to this comment is that we are here to dicuss the book "Mornings in Jenin" and I am sure it is a great book Susan and one day I will read it.

People that are leaving immature comments need to get a life and get out of goodreads.

Thank you and have an awesome day.


message 13: by Jill (new)

Jill Jumana, I never claimed "all Palestinians are bad." Not by a long shot. I personally have met many thoughtful Palestinians who abhor this conflict as much as I do and I'm sure you are one of them. Please re-read my comment. I said that it is a complicated issue and that BOTH sides are guilty of violations. And I also suggested that Susan read "The Lemon Tree" which is an UNBIASED and factual account of the roots of the conflict, with empathy for all the involved parties.

When Susan substitutes "Jewish" for "Israeli", she reveals her hand. And that is intolerable and a slur. I could get into this more, but The Lemon Tree does it far better than I ever could.

You're so right that "people who leave immature comments need to get a life." The conversation with Aamir was valuable and civilized, until Susan's rant.

You have an awesome day, too. And thank you, Jeanette, for allowing all of us to "commandeer" your space!


message 14: by Kim (new)

Kim These discussions are what I don't like about goodreads.com and why I find myself spending more time on librarything.com.

Could people please just stick to discussing the book? I am sure there are other forums if you wish to discuss other topics.


Asterix I would add that people please only comment on a book if they have read it. Jill, can I ask if you have read the book? If not, it can come across as inappropriate to question the veracity of an author in a literary environment.

Having said that - I HIGHLY recommend anyone who is even mildly interested in middle east, contemporary politics and account of refugees, read this book right away.


Nadine Millar Thank you Asterix, point well made!


message 17: by Nila (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nila your review is great! Just wrote mine, and it came out a bit meh

wonderful book and a wonderful story


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