Issue No.
196, August 2014 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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Gaza Writes Back

Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine
Refaat Alareer, Editor
Just World Books, 2014, 204 pages, $24.00

Reviewed by Mahmoud Muna
The Educational Bookshop, Jerusalem

After five years of so-called “Operation Cast Lead,” this book comes out to include 23 short stories written by 15 different Palestinian young writers from Gaza. The stories document everything from daily mundane life to snapshots of real experience that will haunt and fascinate you with their eloquence.

Perhaps the stories with their intimacy and humanity come as a proof that all the catastrophes that have been inflicted on the Gaza Strip and its population have managed neither to kill the spirit nor to shut off the aspirations of people to live in dignity and compassion. On the contrary, the stories speak of the narrative of seeking liberty and hope in the darkest of times.

The stories were written in English as a way for the Palestinian writers to connect directly with the international reader, without mediation or influence. Refaat Alareer, a literature and creative-writing professor at the Islamic University in Gaza, edited the book.

The stories were selected to present a wide range of issues. Using fiction, writers were able to weave their daily realities with thought-provoking state-of-mind perspectives and reflections. The book is full of uncensored feelings and dreams, as if the writers had grown to hate rockets and tanks and, instead, decided to pick up their pens and write how Gaza should fight back.

Most of the stories are written by females which, according to the editor, speaks volumes about how important young Palestinian women have become in recent years, not only in keeping up the struggle but also, and at the same time, to revolutionise it. Of course, with a majority of female input, the stories become a much-needed platform to voice a social critique of issues pertaining to women’s perception and representation within Palestinian society.

What I like most about these stories is the authors’ creativity in crafting the suspense-filled plots. They all start in medias res, describing the details of life from sadness to happiness, from stubbornness to wisdom, from near-despair to hope, while the looming siege always threatens to bring a premature ending to the story with the killing of the main character. Since the stories take the reader on a journey, there is no final stage; just like the occupation, the story ends in medias res.

Although Gaza Writes Back is not an easy book to read, it is a genuine page-turner that keeps you wanting more. It goes beyond the thin crust of bombing and destruction in the context of war; it penetrates people’s lives, psychology, family, and society. On the one hand, this book offers new windows of engagement with the youth of Gaza, yet on the other hand, it challenges readers with a deeper understanding of the experience of nascent Palestinian writers.

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