Issue No.
190, February 2014 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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Golda Slept Here

By Suad Amiry

Women Unlimited - New Delhi, 2014, 171 pages, $25.00

Reviewed by Mahmoud Muna, The Educational Bookshop, Jerusalem

Golda Slept Here, the long-awaited book by Suad Amiry, daughter of a Palestinian father from Jaffa and a Syrian mother, has finally been published. And if you think that Ms. Amiry might have run out of witty snapshots from Palestinian history and daily life, then you are wrong, and you have one more book to read.

What makes Ms. Amiry’s writing special and appealing is the way in which she brings out the most simple of personal stories to reflect the tragedy of a nation, the fragmentation of a memory, and the loss of a beautiful homeland. Hence it comes as no surprise that she was awarded Italy’s prestigious Nonino Prize in January 2014 for “her work to promote peace.”

As always, sharp, fast-paced, and funny - her distinguished signature style - she weaves together almost 100 years of her people’s tragedy and humanity. She speaks of family separation and unification, marriage and lost love, destruction and construction, occupation and resilience, anger and forgiveness, remembering and forgetting. It is a beautiful reminder of the abnormality of the normal.

The book is divided into five parts. While the first chapter details the life of the Palestinian architect Andoni Baramki (the late Gabi Baramki’s father) and his days spent in building the beautiful Arab houses in what later became West Jerusalem, the second part, which constitutes almost half of the book, reels off the ordeals of the loss of those houses during the 1948 Nakba. By following Huda Imam’s regular visit to her family house and those of others, and her encounter with the new occupiers (literally) in West Jerusalem, Ms. Amiry explores the sensitivity of the Palestinians’ obsession with their loss of property.

Perhaps this is an architect’s attempt to critically question the purpose of building beautiful houses if they were built for others to come and occupy them. As a result, the legal owner is not only left to figure out his existence/absenteeism but also to live the agony of the memory. The Bisharat Villa (Villa Harun al-Rashid, whose photograph is featured on the front cover of the book) is a revealing example of this tragedy, since the former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir chose to live in it during the sixties, not before intentionally defacing the ceramic tiles that bore the Arabic name of the villa above its main entrance.

With already three very successful books, Ms. Amiry has often expressed publicly that her writing mission has become an attempt to defeat her first and most famous book, Sharon and My Mother-In-Law, already translated into some twenty languages. There is no doubt that these new writings offer the reader everything informative yet entertaining, from social history and politics to mundane daily life, food, traditions, social critique, nostalgia, monologue, dialogue, and even poetry and prose - a new adventure for her, beautifully crafted. But above all, she has managed so well to reconstruct the stones of the splendid houses and the lives of those who once lived under their charming rose arches.

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