In 2018 I read more books than I had in any year before it and, whilst I didn’t enjoy them all equally, some were absolutely brilliant and a select few were not only brilliant but truly memorable. ‘Mornings in Jenin’ by Susan Abulhawa was probably the most memorable of them all.
Palestine, 1948. As Israeli soldiers march through the village of Ein Hod, a mother’s son is taken from her arms. This is the point at which the lives of the Abulheja family are forever changed. The story that follows is told by Amal, the younger sister of the stolen child; a girl who was not yet born at the time of his disappearance, but born in a refugee camp where she knows of the land of her forefathers only through the stories she is told. Eventually, Amal finds herself in the United States, whilst the brother her family thought was lost is raised an Israeli soldier, an enemy to his own people.
Most of us have read fictional accounts of past wars, we may even have shed tears over the horrors those stories contained. However, when we closed those books we were afforded the luxury of knowing that we were reading about historical events. We might even find consolation in our ability to feel such sorrow and anger, believing that to feel so strongly that something should never have happened might somehow prevent it happening again; a misguided belief that maybe the world will learn a lesson and history will not be allowed to repeat itself.
We know of course that it isn’t true and this book doesn’t allow you to believe, even for one second, that it is. People commit abominable acts against one another and somehow find a way to justify the unjustifiable. Wars are constantly waged and the world (selectively) mourns one horror that only leads to another. Repeatedly.
There are few fictional accounts of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and this one is so beautifully written. Susan Abulhawa narrates these characters’ lives in a way that is relatable, even amidst the horrors of their surroundings: messy as our lives inevitably are, wonder-full as our lives inevitably are, inclusive of beautiful moments that occur even when surrounded by so much that is less than.
Reading this book, feelings of heartbreak, helplessness and anger were my constant companions but don’t let this put you off reading it. This is a story that’ll stay with me for some time and I recommend it wholeheartedly.