Jennifer Abdo's Reviews > Born a Refugee: A Novel of One Palestinian Family

Born a Refugee by Dixiane Hallaj
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Feb 28, 11

Read in December, 2010 — I own a copy

The first thing that jumped out was how she kept repeating "born a refugee," the title. I like a more subtle title, generally. I don't know if people do indeed say this phrase a lot or not in the West Bank, but I thought it seemed overdone.

I didn't really get into the book until Selim was killed. I didn't feel like the characters were very well developed until possibly that point and I had no feelings for them until then.

The plot jumped forward in time hitting a few deaths, a few demonstrations, a few encounters with soldiers. Sometimes subplots were left dangling. I kept waiting for her to come back and tell us, for one example, what the results of the talk Mahmoud and Afaf had about the comment about the wedding sheets- did she say it because she looked down on the old traditions or because she wasn't a virgin?

The afterward had so much information, she could have written another book. It's nice to know what happens to characters, but sometimes it'd be better to leave it to imagination.

The ending was a bit too cheery. Everything seemed to work out pretty well for everyone despite a few minor bumps in the road. At the end, I kind of wanted a happy, but tortured end to symbolize the situation that going on in a larger sense. It's true that they lost a brother and son, but Muhammed ended up being fine and went on to get a career and wife rather than come out of his catatonic state angry and join a resistance group. Having no one in the family serve jail time- I don't know if this is realistic or if perhaps I have a bit pessimistic view of actual events... Everyone got married and had kids and jobs, etc.

I did thouroughly enjoy the descriptions in funerals, weddings, encounters with soldiers, demonstrations, etc that showed Palestinian life and culture. I thought these individual things were great, but they didn't flow into one story well-it kind of jumped from these well described events one to the next rather abruptly.

Mahmoud and Ali were pretty well developed, along with Mother. Afaf, on the other hand, was pretty poorly developed and she had a major character shift for no other apparent reason that she got pregnant. She used to be deceitful and snobby and suddenly she's planning Ali's wedding and ululating with the refugee camp folk. Maybe pregnancy can do that to some folks, but I wanted a better explanation or development for a change that drastic.
Kindle Edition

It is both good and bad that the book wasn't all that dated like a historical fiction. It was mentioned that the mother had experienced the Nakba with the father and perhaps a kid or two, so this dated it somewhat, but specific historical events were not focused on. Mahmoud was not political, so this wasn't a particularly political book. I kind of like the fact that dates and historical events weren't focused on, so it was more of a story, but the plot and characters were a bit weak, so that wasn't so good. I have to say that since it was said Mahmoud was one of the least political people, I thought he wasn't long for this earth. I was wrong.

While I didn't love the book overall, I think it is an important topic and I was glad to be able to do so. Maybe my kids will also read about the Nakba in school as we did only the Jewish Holocaust. It and the underlying issues are becoming quite relevant to our present.

I read that she was an American married to a Palestinian before reading the book, but I think I may have been able to guess this from the writing. I do think she still did an excellent job describing some customs and traditions in Palestine, but may have enjoyed it more had she written from a point of view more comfortable for her- American female rather than Arab male. Though, that may have resulted in something more autobiographical than she wanted...

I would strongly recommend Mornings in Jenin. It was phenomenal and heart wrenching.
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Dixiane Hallaj Thanks for the review. It has given me much to think about. You may be interested in the sequel which was written first, although published later. Refugee Without Refuge addresses some of the things you felt were lacking in Born a Refugee, such as jail time and suicide bombing.
Refugee Without Refuge begins in 2001 with a new generation added to the family.
By the way, Afaf threw her efforts into organizing the wedding because it was her duty to do so--and when she did something, she did it right.
Refugee Without Refuge  A Novel of One Palestinian Family by Dixiane Hallaj Refugee Without Refuge: A Novel of One Palestinian Family


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