Book Review: Mornings in Jenin (Susan Abulhawa)
by Ray Hanania
I have read almost every book published on the Arab-Israeli conflict. In part, I’ve read them all because I live in the United States where, as a Palestinian, I hunger for the truth about the Arab Israeli conflict. Here in the United States, the book publishing industry has been biased. Those few books that manage to make it into print under small usually left-wing book labels, have never satisfied my contempt for the bias in this country.
I’ve read all the books—or, maybe to be more precise, I have tried to read all of them and have read most—also because I continue to look for the Palestinian version of “Exodus,” the propaganda novel penned by Leon Uris at the urging of a publicist hired by the Israeli government that recognized the power of compelling literature, something that has for far too long been missing from Arab literature in English.
Exodus was the benchmark of American understanding of Palestine, a story of poor victims of the Holocaust (victimized not by Arabs but by European Nazis and anti-Semitic Western countries like the United States). It told a great story even though much of it was false.
A lifetime of searching for one book that might have a shot at grabbing the heartstrings of American audiences in the same way that Uris’ compelling and well-written propaganda moved Americans to embrace injustice against Christian and Muslim Arabs in Palestine, the original homeland of Christianity.
I may have finally found that book, although after a half century of seeking, I may not be able to stop myself from continuing a hunt for the perfect Palestinian literary novel that has become my second avocation in life. That book is “Mornings in Jenin.”
“Mornings in Jenin” has everything I have found in Exodus and that has been missing in most literature written by Arabs about the tragedy of Palestine. Human compassion. A compelling human story. A believable narrative that is written not only from the perspective of a trouble Palestinian writer, and refugee from the second Nakba, 1967, but from the perspective of wanting to tell Americans and the West a story that by its nature would easily mesh into what Americans want.
I have always said in hundreds of speeches around the world that the real battle for justice in Palestine is not on some hate-driven web site or in an emotion-driven protest in the streets of Chicago or the Middle East, but in the pages of a book that is so compelling it will grab the heart strings of its readers. A book that is so compelling that the story rises above the politics and the message is delivered not with a sledgehammer, typical of most Palestinian and Arab narrative, but with a style and grace that flows like a creek through the American Dream.
Author Susan Abulhawa has written that book, one that takes the reader through a believable and captivating story of drama, tragedy and human life. For the first time, a palestinian has actually set aside the politics and with a literary finesse, has embedded that tragedy in the pages of an inspirational story that demands that you read it through the end, even if at times it challenges the stereotypes and false notions that have been spoon fed by a propaganda machine and a media bias in America and the West.
The 330 pages is more importantly an easy read. It flows with cries that force you to want to finish the book, and distracts you from the hot buttons that are ingrained in Western brainwashing that they can’t even think for themselves.
This is the book I hope one day is made into a movie. The book that Americans can easily pack away in their luggage and carry with them to the battlefield for the minds and hearts of the Palestine-Israel conflict, vacation beaches where more novels that have damaged the Arab image have been absorbed and swallowed and believed by hundreds of millions of Americans who have never had their false notions and beliefs challenged by truth. I always run in to tourists readings books like Exodus that tell the Israeli story or cast Arabs as the villain. But I have never come across one tourist carrying the great literary political works by Edward Said, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, my mentor in Palestinian identity, nor any of the other thousands of authors who have told and retold the tragedy of Palestine in the same clinically boring politics and academic rhetoric that has rendered or heart wrenching story into one that could so easily be brushed aside. That is not to say that Edward Said is not one of our great writers. But his writings have never appealed to the masses of Western audiences, an audience we as Arabs have failed to properly address.
Susan Abulhawa’s novel will put its readers in a headlock they will not be able to escape until they finish every last word in this compelling drama taken from the pages of history and presented as a human story rather than some political argument or narrative.
This is the book I hope to one day see in the hands of tourists as they lazily lounge on the world’s simmering beaches, absorbing truth in the ultimate moment of exposure to truth. This is the book I hope to one day watch on the big screen, in a theater filled with American audiences waiting for the next word.
Mornings in Jenin
Bloomsbury Books, New York
Formerly titled “The Scar of David.”