Boof's Reviews > Mornings in Jenin

Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa
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Feb 04, 10

bookshelves: arc-and-review-copies, middle-east, read-in-2010
Read from January 31 to February 03, 2010

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 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.
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Reading Progress

01/31/2010 page 42
12.69% "Loving this, so far."
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Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by Chrissie (last edited Feb 04, 2010 02:54AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Chrissie Publisher's Weekly gave this a starred review. Waiting to read your review too. I cannot read the text anywhere, how about a small quote so we get an idea of the writing style?


Boof I'm just about to do my review of this Chrissie, and include a couple of quotes. I really enjoyed it.


message 3: by Laurel (new) - added it

Laurel Loved your review! Will have to check this one out.


message 4: by Sherien (new)

Sherien what an amazing experience, Boof!


message 5: by Grace (new)

Grace Tjan Great review, Boof. I've always been curious about Israel and it's good to hear about things from Palestinian perspective.


Chrissie Boof, great review and thank you for sharing your experiences with us! I want to recommend another book that I felt very well portrayed the Palestinian side of the conflict:The Lemon Tree. Both sides must be heard.


Boof Thanks for the recommendation, Chrissie. That looks like the kind of book I would love.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) What a wonderful review Boof! I loved reading about your experiences in Israel as much as the book - I'll absolutely have to get a copy now! I'm becoming more and more interested in reading stories set in the Middle East (I went through a "phase" when I was a teen of reading "true life" stories set in countries there, but that was a long time ago!), especially since reading Ten Thousand Lovers last year - it's set in Israel too, have you read it?


Boof Thanks Shannon! Another one I didn't know about - has now been added to Mt. TBR.


Chrissie Boof, I like your Mt. TBR expression!


message 11: by Lee (new) - added it

Lee Sounds like a wonderful story Boof! Great personal review!


message 12: by Jen (new) - added it

Jen Great review, Boof! I'm a little concerned that you reading all of these great books is making my TBR grow even more. I don't know if I should thank you or be upset with you. ;)


message 13: by Boof (new) - rated it 5 stars

Boof Hee hee :o)


message 14: by Sherry (new)

Sherry Boof, this is one of the best reviews I've read. Your personal experiences in Israel were as interesting to read as your summary of the book. I'll definitely be picking this one up. My TBR grows at such a rate it feels like it's breeding like bunnies and it's reviews like this that's doing it!


Shannon (Giraffe Days) "Mt. TBR"!! That's so spot-on!!


message 16: by Ayu (new)

Ayu Palar A great review. It's nice to see a book can bring up our personal experience :)


message 17: by Colleen (new) - added it

Colleen Great review Boof, I've also added it to my TBR list. What a wonderful experience you had - good for you!


message 18: by Kathleen (new) - added it

Kathleen Your review is so terrific, Boof, I just HAD to add it to my (ever growing!)list. This one looks too good to miss - thanks.


message 19: by Boof (new) - rated it 5 stars

Boof Thanks guys. I'm so pleased that so many people are adding it to their TBR piles. Hope you all enjoy.


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