Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa

I was drawn to Mornings in Jenin when I saw a description on Goodreads because I can't recall reading anything from the Palestinian perspective of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  This novel is about several generations of the Abulheja family, beginning with them being driven from their home on an olive farm  in 1948 to a refugee camp. During this chaos, a baby is stolen from the family by an Israeli soldier.  The story follows their lives as well as that of the stolen child, David. The main character in the story is Amal, who is born in the refugee camp and learns a lot about her family through the stories that they tell. It follows her through 2002 when she returns to the Middle East after raising her daughter in the United States.

I appreciate that the author placed a family tree in the beginning of the book. It made it much easier to get involved in the story before the names became familiar because there are several shifts in time. I also was grateful for the small glossary in the back as I used it many times.  There were shifts in point of view, but I felt that these were done well and filled in the missing pieces of the story as I needed them. I've seen some criticism of the author's style, but it worked well for me.

This wasn't an easy book to read for many reasons. The horrors of the war and the suffering of the refugees is quite intense. It is also unsettling to read about the Palestinian side of the conflict because it isn't something that I've heard much about. It does tend to come across in black and white terms with Israel being "bad". That was tough for me as these Holocaust survivors were being called terrorists. However, I understand that this is a story from the viewpoint of a refugee and they are also entitled to their story.

I really liked Amal's story, and I was touched at how her understanding of her mother unfolded. I also really liked the story of Ari and Hasan's friendship. What Ari reveals at the end of the book was the best part for me. I wish we could have spent more time with Ari.  Overall I was very impressed with this novel and appreciated the history from the Palestinian experience. I think it would have been stronger if it had been a little more balanced, but it was still very good. 4/5


Lee said...

For some reason I have a hard time reading about this particular conflict. Maybe because I always feel like you have to take sides and it shouldn't be that way.

Literary Feline said...

I picked up a copy of this book on a whim one day but haven't gotten around to reading it. I am so glad you read and reviewed it, Christine. Now I know I must read it!

Jeannette said...

As I said on your GR review, I think it's good to see both sides of this conflict. It is always difficult to see the oppressed being the oppressor, and it never is as black-and-white as it is portrayed by either side. Still, the Palestinian people deserve to have a homeland, too.

aamir said...

copying my note from GoodReads:

"The uniqueness of our position is that we are the victims of the victims" - this is a quote from Palestinian scholar Edward Said, one of the world's most renowed scholars from the late 20th century. The expectation of many that "Mornings in Jenin" should have been more "balanced" by giving room to the Israeli narrative is consequence of this uniqueness. One would not expect an Armenian writer for example to "balance" her narration of the Armenian suffering by including the Turkish narrative. For this as well as the fact that it is a very intense and emotional story written by a refugee (and not for a refugee), Mornings in Jenin makes a fantastic book club discussion. If you do read with a club, do ponder over Ed Said's quote to see if it played a part in your appreciation (or even criticism) of the book :-)