Issue No.
161, September 2011 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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     Book of the Month

Fast Times in Palestine

By Pamela Olson
Mason Hill Press, May 2011, 382 pages, $14.95

A rare piece of literature about Palestine that places its main emphasis on pleasure of reading. Its author, Pamela Olson, arrived in the country at age 22 and fell in love with its people, culture, and struggle.

This hymn to her adopted land is an engaging mix of travel diary, novel, and political journalism. We follow an enraptured Olson as she makes her way in Palestine; through cultural experiences, the development of her career in media, and most of all her relationships with Palestinian people.

In her words: “What makes Palestine (for foreign visitors) is the Palestinian people. Their warmth and strength and sense of humour and their total belonging to this land...Palestinians have this incredible capacity to make strangers feel like they belong. And once you feel you belong, it becomes your struggle, too. Like them, you are forced to struggle not only with the occupation but also with yourself. How can I be most effective without turning into what I hate?”

Her story contains numerous accounts of the everyday hardships inflicted by the Israeli occupation. Told in stark yet human terms, Olson makes them plainly accessible to the casual, uninformed foreign reader who remains to be persuaded.

The author has professed that her main intention was to raise awareness within this demographic. “My hope is that it will galvanise ordinary people to act, or at least continue to learn more,” she told us.

A powerful method to this end is rooting her narrative in human experience. She draws on a number of personal friendships that illustrate the charm and variety of Palestinian culture that so many abroad are unfamiliar with. Tales of gathering the olive harvest, New Year’s Eve in Jericho, and an ever-so-sweet romance succeed in removing the politics from the population, through engaging and well-nuanced characterisation that any reader can engage with.

As a personal story it carries shades of beat literature, with its laidback sense of morality and its tone of narration. The author is the central character but is positioned as the eager listener, the blank canvas; she is coloured in by the events and people.

Yet her affable and quintessentially liberal voice is the most receptive of prisms through which an American reader can see the injustice lost in media representations. There is an element of entrapment in the way Olson’s innocent, honeyed tones casually shatter accepted ideas about the conflict. Her observations are as radical and uncompromising as any of Israel’s harshest critics.

No wonder, then, that her book has been so well received in the United States. The worlds of media, academia, and activism have combined to shower Fast Times with praise, while Jewish and Palestinian organisations have joined the chorus.

Essential reading for the casually interested, valuable insight for devotees, and a damn good story for everyone else.

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