Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa
I could preface this review by telling you that this book will make you cry a lot. And if it doesn’t, then clearly you have a problem and a huge bias that cannot be changed. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that reading Mornings in Jenin will touch the humanist in you, and if it doesn’t well you’re in trouble.
As you may know what is going on in Palestine (and if you don’t I both envy and cringe at the ignorance), the violence, the ethnic cleansing of indigenous people, their land, their culture, and so much more, I knew it was time to educate myself.
I read Israeli Apartheid by Ben White and although I should’ve posted a review on it before this one, I couldn’t form words to talk about it. Writing a review for Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa isn’t an easy task. It has been one that I’ve been avoiding for a few weeks now by reading other books, doing other stuff, and the current state of my life isn’t helping either.
I am currently in the process of moving back to Pakistan and interviewing for jobs which makes it hard to write reviews for books that I’ve read, on top of the content writing I do freelance.
But these are all excuses.
“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.”
And right now, more than ever, our voices need to be in sync for the Palestinian cause. While, I feel extremely helpless and hopeless on what I can do for our Palestinian brothers and sisters, reading anything that amplifies the violence, ethnic cleansing, and settler colonialism they are facing seems a good way to start.
And of course, sharing it with everyone else as well.
So I read Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa, and let me tell you I cried like there was no tomorrow.
I don’t think anyone can come out of this book without being impacted by this multi-generational story of loss. Loss of family, identity, sanctity, home, love, and independence.
It didn’t help the fact that this story is semi-autobiographical as Susan Abulhawa was born to parents who were refugees of the 1967 war and were expelled to Jordan, before moving to Kuwait. She was born there, and later moved to the US only to return to Jerusalem at the age of 10. However, she eventually returned to the US as a teenager where she went on to study further.
“How was it that a man could not walk onto his own property, visit the grave of his wife, eat the fruits of forty generations of his ancestor’s toil, without mortal consequence? Somehow that raw question hand not previously penetrated the consciousness of the refugees who had become confused in the rank eternity of waiting, pining at abstract international resolutions, resistance and struggle.”
Coming back to Mornings in Jenin, as you can see from the short summary of the author, the story is deeply vivid and real, and each character is the culmination of many living Palestinians who suffered the limbo of waiting in refugee camps in order to return to their homes. They never did, they never could but they are still waiting…
“The future can’t breathe in a refugee camp, Amal. The air here is too dense for hope. You are being offered a chance to liberate the life that lies dormant in all of us. Take it”
The story begins before the Nabka of 1948 in the village of Ein Hod with two brothers Hassan and Darweesh. Eventually, we move onto the Nabka that ensues causing both brothers and their families to forcefully flee their homes and move to the refugee camp in Jenin where Amal the daughter of Hassan is born.
As a multi-generational story there are many characters in this book, and the beauty of Abulhawa’s writing is that you never seem to get confused or forgetful about them. What we witness throughout the novel is story of this young girl who loses everyone in the war of freedom and right to claim their own land.
The fact that they could see their own village from their camp and yet not be able to step a foot in it, made me feel helpless and frustrated. There are scenes in this book too gruesome to describe, too heart shattering to utter that unfortunately are not a work of fiction.
“In the process of trying to steady my gait in a life that shook with uncertainty, I learned to make peace with the present by unknowingly breaking love line to the past. Growing up in a landscape of improvised dreams and abstract national longings, everything felt temporary to me.”
But most importantly, there is a twist in this book that really is astounding. Before Amal was born, her parents had 2 sons. One of whom was lost during the chaos of the Nabka who we later find out is abducted by a Jewish soldier. To say that the story is layered and complex would not be a lie, because to describe the story would be hard without giving too much away.
Amal’s story is the story of many young girls in Palestine and refugee camps who’ve lost, one by one, their parents, siblings, friends, neighbors to the militant attacks by the Israeli army. Amal however, manages to prove herself to be a studious pupil and eventually goes to America on scholarship, to fulfill her father’s dream of acquiring an education.
Years later, Amal returns right back to the refugee camp where she was born with her daughter, one brother, an old uncle and see an end to the circle of life.
If you ever read one book on Palestine, read Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa!
If non-fiction is too hard for you to understand or stomach, read Mornings in Jenin.
This isn’t a fictional story. Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa is a collection of the lived experiences of the violence that started in 1948 and hasn’t ended!!
Do your part!
Read, spread the word, and be on the right side of the fight for freedom that our Palestinian sisters and brothers are running! There is no “two sides” or “both sides of the argument” it isn’t a grey matter or complication.
And if you read Mornings in Jenin you will understand that this is white supremacy and colonialism!!
Susan Abulhawa has also written two other books that are on my tbr:
Till next time