Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Book Review - 'Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine'

By Sarah Irving (Electronic Intifada)

It’s not difficult for non-Arabic-reading audiences to get a taste of the variety and power of Palestinian literature. Translations of big names such as Mahmoud Darwish, Jabra Ibrahim Jabra and Emile Habibi have long been available, and in the last decade these have been joined by the likes of Mourid Barghouti, Adania Shibli, Ghassan Zaqtan and Samih al-Qasim.

The short stories collected in Gaza Writes Back (Just World Books) are not necessarily the work of future greats such as these — although it’s far from impossible.

What this selection offers is something rather different: the fresh voices of young (teenage and twenty-something), non-professional writers from Gaza, a group which is under-represented in Palestinian literature in translation.

These are the kind of voices we are more accustomed to finding in blogs, podcasts or videos, far from the literary establishment and speaking of the challenges facing Palestinians in very different ways.

But while many of these tales are filled with the kind of events and traumas we read of all-too-often in blogs and news articles about Gaza, they are genuine short stories. They have plots, suspense, characterization, psychological complexity and, most of all, the deep sense of feeling that comes from the meeting of experience and artistic sensibility.

Complex layers

Among the the stand-out examples from Gaza Writes Back it is worth mentioning Noura Al-Sousi’s “Canary,” in which the author moves between time periods and writes from different viewpoints in order to create a tale of interweaving emotions, motivations and perspectives. Memory, love, pain and a sense of what-ifs culminate in a genuine tension and a shocking and ambiguous ending.

The stories also reveal the complex layers of Palestinian society in Gaza which are often brushed over in politically-oriented news. Sameeha Elwan’s “Toothache in Gaza” and Elham Hilles’ “Lost at Once” both tackle the issue of class divisions.

Elwan exposes the indignities faced by those who can only afford to get their medical treatment from the under-resourced clinics of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees. “[My father] said he had to go to the clinic an hour before me so that he could get me a place before it got jam-packed. How could a place get crowded at seven in the morning, I wondered.”

Hilles, meanwhile, presents a love story between an upper-class girl, and boy from Nuseirat refugee camp. Intertwining romance, pride, stubbornness and snobbery, their tale leads Eman (the protagonist) to a greater understanding of her society, even if its boundaries are destined to confine her hopes and desires. more

You can buy the book here


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