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Monday, 14 December 2015

Stories matter

"Stories matter"
Book Title: The Blue between Sky and Water
Author: Susan Abulhawa

History’s records of a conflict are often written with the victor’s pen – and most mainstream media outlets in the contemporary context picks up on stories that feed into sensationalism and war journalism – following set propaganda. Thanks to that, one seldom hears the side of those that are oppressed, or those that are at the receiving end of atrocities. It is at times like these that one turns to literature.

Susan Abulhawa’s latest book, The Blue between Sky and Water, takes up the story of a Palestinian family, rendering the narrative of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and all the surrounding atrocities it brought on – from beginning to now. The Baraka Family, residents of peaceful Beit Daras in 1948, are forced to leave the village with the advent of the Israeli military powers. The family and their extended community is soon forced to scatter – some, into the nether world. Some, into lands abroad.  
Life as a refugee starts with a sense of impermanence – and somewhere among the canvas tents, there settles an ugly feeling of extension of the impermanence, until settlements sprout up with walls created with as much material as could be crafted out of hand – for cement, as the book explains, is banned. Meanwhile, miles away, one limb of the family, Mamdouh and his young wife Yasmine, work in Cairo, Egypt. Life takes them to the US, while the rest of their family – the feisty Nazmiyeh and her husband Atiyeh, her son Mazen, daughter Alwan and eleven sons in between remain in Palestine. Alwan has two children, Khaled and Rhet Shel – the former is the life of this book, for it is his place – this mysterious, lovely, delightful land of blue between Sky and Water. The latter is a beautiful tribute to Rachel Corrie, whose name isn’t mentioned much in contemporary circles today – the girl who stood up for the truth of what was happening in Palestine.

Meanwhile, in the US, Mamdouh’s granddaughter Nur is all they have left in the name of family abroad. Nur is seen battling it out for a while, from foster home to foster home, a life of painful abuse and yet, a sense of resilience, until she finally makes it to Gaza – drawn by young Khaled and his predicament, and made to stay by the stunning realisation that she had come home after all, to family.
Susan’s writing is as mellifluous as always – if Mornings in Jenin was well-written, this book is a re-definition of well-written. Through the book, there are powerful references to the global neglect of the longest conflict in the world, since the end of the Second World War. The backdrop of displacement and oppression stands like an elephant in the room as life passes it by under its nose (trunk?) – there is love, anger, hatred, rape, survival, death, loss, reclamation, belonging, celebration and mourning, fear and rebellion, crazy dirty jokes and patriotic fervour.  This is a stunning reminder of how important it is to know these stories – to remember them, and to make them actionable. Susan effortlessly harnesses the power of words and sends a very important message – that these stories are truth, and that all truth, is actionable. In her words – which Nur’s Jiddo (grandfather) so beautifully puts into Nur’s young heart:

“Stories matter. We are composed of our stories. The human heart is made of words we put in it. If someone ever says mean things to you, don’t let those words go into your heart, and be careful not to put mean words in other people’s hearts.”    

The life, heart and soul of the book is Palestine, Gaza – and every heart that beats alive there, every soul that has once lived in the hope of breathing the free air of the nation, there, and has died with those dreams etched on the inner side of its eyes. That life, heart and soul is Khaled – the powerful, powerful anthropomorphic allegory of Palestine and its people. Silenced. Forced to bear a predicament that is not his. Struggling under the yoke of bias and partial treatment. A sense of unconditional love. Khaled’s voice is a wonderful carrier of some of the most important truths that Palestine has not had the chance to be heard, with.

The end of the book tugs at your heartstrings. A prisoner exchange is promised, and Nur’s family is waiting for the return of Mazen. Leaving the reader with a sense of hope, Susan creates a strong image of survivorship. Long after you close the book, these beautiful words from the book resonate in your ears.

“Everything that happens is as it should be. Someday, this will all end. There will be no more hours, no more soldiers and no countries. The most anguished pains and  blissful triumphs will fade to nothing. All that matters is this love.”