Mornings in Jenin
By Susan Abulhawa
Bloomsbury USA, 2010, 352 pages, $15.00
“In the sorrow of a history buried alive,
the year 1948 in Palestine fell from the calendar into exile,
ceasing to reckon the marching count of days, months, and years,
instead becoming an infinite mist of one moment in history.” Susan Abulhawa
Mornings in Jenin, by Susan Abulhawa, is a powerful novel that captures one family’s love, loss, discovery, and hope, spanning over 60 years in Palestine: a land split between two histories and peoples, and a seemingly never-ending conflict.
In this novel, Abulhawa tells the story of the Abulheja family by presenting it chronologically through four generations of family members and describing specific events in their lives prior to and following the Nakba and Naksa (1948 and 1967). Amal, a third-generation family member, whose name means hope, narrates most of these events. Born in a refugee camp in Jenin after her grandparents and parents were forced to leave their ancestral village of Ein Hod to accommodate the Jewish settlers, Amal becomes the voice of her family and perhaps the voice of displaced Palestinians everywhere. Amal continually expresses the difficulties, nightmares, and challenging realities of being thrown out of their homes, communities, and country, of the heart-breaking murder of her infant cousin right in front of her eyes - and worse, in her arms - of her long-lost brother David’s story, which is filled with lies and deception to prevent the knowledge of his true identity. In all, through Abulhawa’s narration, death becomes an everyday occurrence, indeed, an integral part of Palestinian daily life.
As Abulhawa moves us from one painful event to the next, an emotional battlefield emerges, where joy and sadness, life and loss, and love and hatred collide, pulling readers into a world of seemingly unimaginable realities. We know that in Palestine, however, these are, sadly, historical facts. At times, emotions overwhelm the reader and perhaps even blind her from the story itself. Ultimately, the reader is so invested in the characters and events that the book ends faster than it began, leaving us wanting more.
This fictitious novel relies on the factual story of this country, its history, its people, and its events. Abulhawa acknowledges that she drew inspiration from the works of Edward Said, Khalil Gibran, and many others to poetically render the stories, which are also our stories. Abulhawa speaks of our experiences and our realities, which makes this our history in a twentieth-century novel. However, Abulhawa dares to ask readers to acknowledge that both sides of the conflict feel pain, death, and loss, showing the human struggle and the fact that there is no victory in war.
Mornings in Jenin has been translated into some 20 languages, becoming a bestseller in many countries. Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation has brought this amazing narrative to Arabic-speakers.
Reviewed by Heba Awadallah, Palestine Writing Workshop.