Middle East/North African Lit discussion

The Blue Between Sky and Water
This topic is about The Blue Between Sky and Water
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2017 challenge > 6/17 The Blue Between Sky and Water - Whole Book (spoilers permitted)

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message 1: by Carol (last edited Jun 11, 2017 06:48PM) (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 207 comments This is the thread where we can discuss the book, as a whole. Spoilers are permitted here.

Did The Blie Between Sky and Water resonate with you? Would you recommend it to others? Why or why not?


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 316 comments I was disappointed with it. I didn't think it read like a novel--more like a biography. Also, I felt it was too overtly political. I think it is worth reading because it shed light on the impact of the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian people--an important but neglected subject. But I was hoping for something better written and more nuanced.
I'll post my review on it tomorrow.


message 3: by Jalilah (last edited Jun 18, 2017 01:01PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jalilah | 753 comments Tamara wrote: "I was disappointed with it. I didn't think it read like a novel--more like a biography. Also, I felt it was too overtly political. I think it is worth reading because it shed light on the impact of..."

I am just a few chapters in and finding it enthralling!
It's very different from her first novel, Mornings in Jenin, in that there are also a few sympathetic Jewish characters. This one starts right away with the atrocities.
What I like up to now in the book is the magical aspects like the Djinn which are absent in the first.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 316 comments Lila wrote: "Tamara wrote: "I was disappointed with it. I didn't think it read like a novel--more like a biography. Also, I felt it was too overtly political. I think it is worth reading because it shed light o..."

I'd be interested to know what you think as you get farther in to it. I did so much want to like it. And although there were some strengths to it, one the whole i was disappointed.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 316 comments I gave it three stars. I don't know if i was being too hard on it because my expectations were high. Anyway, I'd be interested to know what others think of it.

My review on goodreads
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
and on my website at www.tamaraaghajaffar.com


message 6: by PS (new) - rated it 1 star

PS I'm three quarters of the way in, so I'll post more when I'm done. I liked her poetic style in the first couple of chapters, but it's starting to grate on me now ever so slightly.

I agree Tamara, it's very political and doesn't feel like a novel, but that somehow works for me in a way: it feels like this family actually exists somewhere in Gaza right now.

I hope to finish it by the end of this week.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 316 comments Sofia wrote: "I'm three quarters of the way in, so I'll post more when I'm done. I liked her poetic style in the first couple of chapters, but it's starting to grate on me now ever so slightly.

I agree Tamara,..."


I look forward to knowing your impressions when you finish it.


message 8: by Jalilah (last edited Jun 20, 2017 06:48AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jalilah | 753 comments I am a little over half finished but finding it hard to put down. If I had the time I'd read it straight through, but unfortunately I just have time to read a few chapters with my morning tea and a few more before going to bed.
Mind you, I also like biographies so maybe that's why the style doesn't bother me.
Idk..but maybe after all that's happening and the current political climate Susan Abulhawa is fed up with having to sugar coat the situation in order not to offend people?
If this the case honestly I don't blame her.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 316 comments Lila wrote: "but maybe after all that's happening and the current political climate Susan Abulhawa is fed up with having to sugar coat the situation in order not to offend people?
If this the case honestly I don't blame her. ..."


I agree with you. She shouldn't sugar coat anything and I didn't want her to do so.

I just wanted her to present the same material but more in the form of a novel with greater sophistication, subtlety, and nuance. I think she does it in such an overtly political way that it reads like a litany of atrocities.

I am not disputing her perspective. I am just suggesting she risks turning people off because she is so transparent about it.


Jalilah | 753 comments Tamara wrote: "Lila wrote: "but maybe after all that's happening and the current political climate Susan Abulhawa is fed up with having to sugar coat the situation in order not to offend people?
If this the case ..."


I agree with your review that it was unrealistic and improbable that Nur would just arrived in Gaza and happen to find her family, but not realise they were her family. I know her grandfather died when she was very young, but I understood that Nur's social worker Nzinga had already contacted the family in Gaza, or not?
Furthermore wouldn't Nur, being Mamdouh's granddaughter carry his last name? And therefore Nazmiyeh might have recognized it and asked her?
And wouldn't Nur after taking the time to learn Arabic and finally go to Gaza, has inquired about her family there before she left?
This was a big plot hole.
Otherwise I do really like the writing. I can't explain why, just that it makes me always want to read on, it never gets tedious.


message 11: by Jalilah (last edited Jun 24, 2017 04:28PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jalilah | 753 comments I found this book very moving and very readable.
What I wrote above and what Tamara mentioned in her review about Nur finding her family still holds true, but it did not stop me from enjoying it. Several characters saved the day for me. I just adored Nazmiyeh. I found the friendship between her and the beekeeper's Widow in the end hilarious.
I also liked Khalid and the idea of being "in the Blue" and traveling between times to teach his great aunt to read! I found this very magical!
I also sympathize with Nur. The part of her losing her grandfather was tragic and her abuse by Sam horrendous.

To me though it seemed like it would be very difficult to find her to stay with her family with an out of wedlock child. Even if Nazmiyeh's son Mazen married her she and her child, even the entire family would still be stigmatized.
Does anyone have any thoughts on this?


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 316 comments Lila wrote: "Even if Nazmiyeh's son Mazen married her she and her child, even the entire family would still be stigmatized.
Does anyone have any thoughts on this? ..."


I liked Nazmiyeh, too. She was my favorite character because of her no-nonsense, keep on trucking attitude.

As far as Nur and her family being stigmatized because of her illegitimate child, I think when people are struggling for survival on a daily basis, they tend to adopt a more relaxed attitude toward social and cultural norms because they have more important issues to worry about. In this case, the community has to navigate the harsh reality of living under Israeli occupation and the challenges of survival during the Gaza blockade that made of the area a virtual prison.

When a community suffers wholesale oppression, they tend to bond and help each other out as we saw in this novel. Perhaps that makes them more willing to overlook lapses in moral and ethical judgment.

When your sons and husbands are being rounded up and incarcerated, or when the Israeli military shoots your fishing boats for sport, you have more pressing issues to worry about than stigmatizing a family for having a child out of wedlock.

I'm not suggesting Nur and her family wouldn't be stigmatized but probably not to the same degree had they all been living under normal conditions and didn't have to rely on each other for survival.


message 13: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 207 comments I took a break ten or so days ago in my reading because I was having difficulty with this book. The level of hate toward Jews and Israelis was apparent, but I thought perhaps if I read something else and came back to it, it would strike me more as positive toward Palestinians more than virulent toward Jews. But tonight I returned to it and it only got uglier. I apologize because I didn't expect that this novel would hold anything so offensive it would require that I abandon it; however, I wouldn't defend a book that repeatedly cast Palestinians or Muslims as devils, and I won't defend this.

To be clear, I don't fault any other reader for reaching a different conclusion or have no a different perspective.


message 14: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 207 comments Bloomsbury offers a downloadable reading guide at their site:

http://media.bloomsbury.com/rep/files...

I thought several of the questions were interesting and will post them here to assist in our discussion of the whole book, but of course, all comments and impressions are welcome, whether or not they pertain to these questions.

Why did Abulhawa choose Khaled as her narrator? How might the novel read differently if Nazmiyeh had been the narrator?

Why is Mazen the only one of Nazmiyeh’s sons who is given a name and individual identity? What is the importance of his story?

Thoughts?


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 316 comments Carol wrote: "Why did Abulhawa choose Khaled as her narrator? How might the novel read differently if Nazmiyeh had been the narrator?.."

Interesting questions. Thank you for posting them, Carol.

I think Abulhawa chose Khaled as her narrator because her primary goal was to write a political novel that shed light on the Israeli occupation. That's also connected with why Mazen is the only one of Nazmiyeh's sons who is given a name and individual identity. He is the only one who is incarcerated for his political activity against the Israeli occupation. Therefore, he is the only son deemed significant enough to warrant an identity.

Personally, I would have preferred it if Nazmiyeh had been the narrator. I think her perspective as the glue that holds the family together, that keeps going in spite of the horrors she experiences, would have made her a more interesting narrator.

It is frequently the women who try to maintain some semblance of normalcy for their families in times of hardship. Nazmiyeh fulfills that function in the novel. It would have been interesting to see the daily struggles of the Israeli occupation from a woman's point of view.


message 16: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 207 comments Tamara wrote: "Carol wrote: "Why did Abulhawa choose Khaled as her narrator? How might the novel read differently if Nazmiyeh had been the narrator?.."

Interesting questions. Thank you for posting them, Carol.

..."


You're welcome, Tamara. It would have been a very different story, indeed. Pregnant and delivering a child every ten months for years. That is breathtaking even without all the struggles of occupation,


Jalilah | 753 comments Carol wrote: ".Why did Abulhawa choose Khaled as her narrator? How might the novel read differently if Nazmiyeh had been the narrator?"

I very much liked Khaled as the narrator! Having him born as Nazmiyeh's grandson in a coma, able to travel through time to when Nazmiyeh was a little girl gave the novel an otherworldliness. That and the Djinn gave the otherwise brutally realistic story a touch of magic.
It would have been interesting having Nazmiyeh as a narrator too though!
About Mazen, I too wondered why the names of many of the sons were not mentioned!


message 18: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 207 comments As we hit the halfway point for our group read, here are two new questions bloomsbury provided and which I thought might lead to interesting comments;


1.After her jiddo dies, Nur lives with many different “families,” but the two characters who are most like family to her are Nzinga and Tio Santiago. Why is this? What do Nzinga and Tio Santiago provide for Nur that she is unable to find anywhere else in the United States?

2. Why does Alwan become furious with Nur when she begins her affair with Jamal? What other aspects of Palestinian culture does Nur struggle with because of her Western upbringing?

Thoughts?


message 19: by Zanna (new) - added it

Zanna (zannastar) | 166 comments I wasn't really keen on Mornings in Jenin, purely because I didn't enjoy the storytelling, but reading Lila's comments here I'm quite tempted by this (I have no problem with political aspects being salient and I love magical elements). Glad I finally read this thread!


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Mornings in Jenin (other topics)

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Susan Abulhawa (other topics)