- Published on Wednesday, 01 August 2012 13:04
- Category: Literature
In a distant time, before history marched over the hills and shattered present and future, before wind grabbed the land at one corner and shook it of its name and character, before Amal was born, a small village east of Haifa lived quietly on figs and olives, open frontiers and sunshine.—from Mornings in Jenin
And so begins an epic novel that tells the deeply personal story of its protagonist while also spanning decades of the tumultuous political and cultural history of Palestine. Some critics have claimed that Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa will do for Palestine what The Kite Runner did for Afghanistan—Abulhawa has written what she knows, and has done it beautifully, detailing the internal and external struggle that comes with being Palestinian in today’s day and age.
The novel spans four generations and does it in such a way that the reader not only feels connected to the main character, Amal, but also begins to feel connected to the rich history of the region. Beginning with Amal's Grandfather and Grandmother, and their uprooting from their ancestral home, Abulhawa depicts a time filled with whimsical memories, all narrated to show the beauty of her family’s lifestyle and culture—she tells the stories of her family in such a personal and intimate way that the reader becomes a new addition to the family, being let in on the secrets and stories just as they were once described to her, beautifully describing a place brimming with as much family and love as there is struggle for dignity and independence.
The story continues by then depicting the family’s time as refugees in Jenin, where each of the family members’ struggles resonates with the reader—the trouble Amal’s Grandfather has as he learns how to live dependent on others; her mother’s fight to survive through the loss her of home, and child, Ismael; her father’s fight to give his family a life they deserve, one of dignity and independence; and the continuation of that fight through her brother, Yousef. As Amal grows older, the story shifts to focus on her eventual studies in the US. By placing the memories of Palestine in the background, the reader is able to feel how Amal is hiding from her past. As she slowly begins to face the realities of her past, stories of her friends and family are intertwined in the narrative, drawing the reader in right along with Amal as she confronts her personal history.
One of the most controversial and powerful storylines in the novel is that of Ismael, the child stolen from Amal’s family and raised as David, who grows up to become a Jewish soldier. The story of David is not only an interesting twist in the plot, but also serves a higher purpose, allowing Abulhawa to explore the complexities in relationships between Palestinians and Israelis. A relationship that is often viewed as strictly political is given a humanizing twist through David. Abulhawa is at her best when she uses a personal story to convey a much larger message—in this case, of a struggle between two communities to acknowledge the role they’ve each played in a highly political conflict, and work to foster relations and productive dialogue with one another.
By creating characters that the reader easily falls in love with, Mornings in Jenin rises far above most novels that focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. You end the book with a genuinely satisfied feeling in your heart—not only was this a good read, but it may just help you understand another point of view in such a complicated and convoluted political conflict.By Chrissy Burton, Aslan Media Contributor