Among the Almond trees by Hussein Barghouthi

Among the Almond trees by Hussein Barghouthi

Palestinian Memoir

Original title – Sa’ akin bayn al-Lawz

Source – personal copy

I wanted to add a lot more arabic literature this year but have failed so far I looked at a list from Arablit where they had some books coming out this year and this was one that was mentioned although I had to wait ages for it to arrive as the publication got pushed back of I had to wait for a reprint maybe. What had caught my eye about this book was the description which remind me of one of my fav orate books from year ago I saw Ramallah from Mourid Borghouti which was one of my favourite books and now years later sticks with me with the images of a man returning to his home of Ramallah after many years away. This has a similar premise we see Hussein come home to the countryside around Ramallah where he grew up. But this is a man that is near the end of his life coping with terminal cancer. He had Taught in Europe mainly in Hungary and was the found of the House of Poets in Palestine and also worked on a number of literary magazines. he passed away twenty years ago.

After an absence of thirty years I have returned to live in the countryside near Ramallah – “returned to the beauty that had been betrayed” I had exiled myself from my beginnings and chosen to live as an expatriate. I am one who has perfected “Beginnings” but not” endings”. My return therefore is an imperfect ending

The opening paragraph I was so touched with the ending comment to face death is so hard

As the translator says h=in his intro this is a man struggling with lymphoma and it is his thoughts of life and art but also how he is going to die and ascending into heaven. He has returned to a place that he left thirty years earlier he is near the end of his life and as we follow him as he walks out in the countryside around Ramallah the past and present and future all blend as he walks in the shadows of those almond trees in the day ion the night as he looks back and forward. The book is a poets looking and gathering the final curtain of his life the people he knew his wife and young child his parents. The mountains as memories of his youth flood in as we see a memory of place open up. as we see what was more wilderness in his day now changed but he still finds the wild parts of the area and the Monastery which look large in the story. He talks about people having country and cities of there names as he sees his city in the book.

Among my friends would be Ali Baba and Enkidu, and all those who were born and loved and lived in stories, Stories are the windows of the Spirit and the imagination. When, for example, quaddura spreads his abs on the roof of the monastery and sang and played his rabbi, looking out moonlit wadis, on orchards ploughed planted, on wide obscure distances, he opened a window for his voice in the moonlight space and his voice occupied an eternal domain. His song would then become the city of his name

Where are you from ?

I’m from the country of windows

Stories is often how people are remembered when they pass !

This is a short memoir of a man who has come home to far e the ghost of his past a poet a writer this book is a man looking at a police he once knew and reliving the past as he faces the end and trying to remember the past the translator mentions this as a work as a memory of place the ghosts of our past. I am someone that remembers most events in my life and the places they happen I am haunted and often relive them like Hussein does when he returns after all the years away from his homeland. It remind me of Sebald at time the way he used place to link to the past. This is one of two works he wrote near the end of his life they are both coming out from seagull book the other book Blue light is a flip of this book as it is set around his journey from Seattle with a homeless madman. This book is different to I saw Ramallah as  this is a lot more personal and lot more around the view of the end of your life. But it has the same feeling of loss in the past and returning to find the world you once knew gone or just there as ghosts in your memory. This is a powerful work of memoir of a man facing death. Do you have a favourite book set in Palestine ?

Winstons score – +A touching and sad memoir from a poet

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli

Palestinian fiction

Original title – تفصيل ثانوي

Translator – Elisabeth Jaquette

Source personal copy

I must admit I haven’t reviewed as much Arabic fiction as I use to I have a number of books on my shelf and had a couple of other books I thought would be on the long list this year. This book I was aware of and would have got round to eventually as I have read nearly all the blue cover books from Fitzcarraldo and have not read a bad book from them. Adania Shibli has written a number of other books she has previously had three other books translated. She studied at the University of East London. She was also on the list of writers under 39 that was collected together in Beirut 39. She now lives in Berlin. So here we go on the latest stop on this year’s Booker international longlist.

After dinner, he went straight to the second hut, where he told the guard to bring the girl and follow him, and he headed to his hut. Followed by the guard and the girl, who were in turn followed by his dog. On the way there, he passed by the supply dump in the middle of the cam and appeared a few moments later woth a folding bed, which the guard rushed to carry for him.

When they arrived at his hut, he took the folding bed from the guard and brought it inside, while the others waited outside. after a moment a latern’s glow, then the noise of furniture being moved around the room reached them

Just as the act the minor detail is due to happen.

The book revolves around a minor event in the summer of 1949 as the Israeli army is setting up camp in a remote area what follows is the mundane event of setting up the camp near the Egyptian border in the desert.  what we see is the boredom of this camp from the point of view of their commander. The heat and uneventful nature of this camp lead to a horrific event when the first people they see a group of Nomads passing through who the troops that are trigger happy after the waiting kills them but one bedouin women has been left alive when the Commander brings her back to the camp she is raped this event just a small part a minor detail in the war is rediscovered in the present by a writer as she vis in Ramallah trying to uncover more about the events that lead to this horrific crime. It shows the past and present and how little has changed and the way not to lose the past avoid rewriting history.

so, one morning when I was reading the newspaper, and happened across an article about a certain incident itself that began to haunt me. Incident itsef that began to haunt me. Incidents like that aren’t out of the ordinary, or let us say, they happen in contexts like this. In fact they happen in contexts like this. In fact, they happen so often that I’ve never paid them much attention before. For instance , on another morning when it was raining. I woke up late, which meant I couldn’t sit and work at my table in front of the big window; instead I had to go straight to my new job. When I arrived at my stop, and got off the minibus a bit before the clocktower.

The reading of a minor detail gets a writer down a rabbit hole of wanting to find out more about what happened.

This is a clever way of using the past and present the two views of the same event and looking at what happened to this Bedouin girl the only person left after the rest of her group was killed by the soldiers. And a writer from the modern-day and reading about this event and what happened in a brief report in a newspaper. That sparks her to have to try and find out more about this and this minor detail in history. but it shows how little has changed for the Palestinians in modern Israeli as she struggles to get to access the sources for the info. As she gets through the labyrinth of bureaucrats. The first part of the book is an account of war but also the way it can lead to horrific events like this the events are like what happened in Lord of the flies or clockwork orange where a group of young males whether school kids, a gang or a group of soldiers overstep the mark. This does what a good novella should do and that feels like an epic on a small scale this takes one single event and like a Macro lens blows it up to it fills the screen and is thus a motif for the great events of the war of independence

Winstons score- B a solid novella leaves the reader thinking for a while after.

Keep your eye on the wall Palestinian landscapes


Keep your eye on the wall  – Palestinian Landscapes

Edited by Olivia snaije and Mitchell Albert

Source review copy

 Keep Your Eye on the Wall brings together seven award-winning artist-photographers and four essayists, all responding to the Wall in images or words. The photographers present unique perspectives, whether it is documenting the journey of labourers across the concrete separation barrier, or exploring the layers and textures of a wall in Gaza.

Mitchell Albert is a London-based editor. Since 2002 he has worked as a commissioning editor for non-fiction and fiction books, as a freelance book and magazine editor, and as a programme manager overseeing literary events. From 2007–11 he edited the literary journal of PEN International. Many of the projects in which he has been involved have had the Middle East as their main subject.

Olivia Snaije is a Paris-based journalist and editor. She has worked for various newspapers and magazines, and as a book commissioning editor for a publishing company and has contributed to, written, and translated several books. She is the former executive editor of Alef, a London-based culture magazine about the Middle East, and was Editor-in-Chief of World Media in Paris, a magazine published by a group of twenty-six newspapers worldwide. The Middle East has been the primary focus of her work for the past twenty years.

Shockingly beautiful and evocative … the artists echo the feelings of Palestinians who have to make do with life in a divided, disfigured land’

Raja Shehadeh

This is something a little different for Winston’s  dad. A book of photos and some essays  about the wall that divides Israeli and Palestine .A group of photographs have been brought together to show the wall and its effect on every day life .The book is forward by Raja Shehadeh Whom I interview here .The wall like all walls that divide people is an important part of every day Life .In his book I was born here ,I was born there Mourid Barghouti describe the sheer horror of him as a person trying to get across this wall to his homeland of Palestine .Walls have been part of history from the great Wall but this wall in Palestine is similar to other raised in the 20th century .The Berlin wall divide east and west ,ideologies ,but like this drew artist to record it The novel wall Jumper I have reviewed here followed accounts around the wall and those trying to get to the other side .The German Artist Joesph Beuys had said he want the wall 5cm to better fit the city ,that tongue in cheek humour seems to come across in some pictures in this collection and of course the greatest view of Berlin and its wall for me was the film Wings of desire ,which saw two angles wander the wall on both sides and see how that wall had effect the city it tied in well with this picture of  a women dressed as an angel

wallwell my own experience with walls that divide is from my holidays visiting my dad as a kid in Belfast and the peace wall the divide parts of Belfast like the wall in Palestine it divided people more than  stopped  the trouble  cause deeper divides ,in fact the design and feel of parts of the wall in Palestine remind me of the parts of the wall I remember seeing years ago in Belfast those gates to split people apart and leave them apart .

keep 1I link to Saqi site the actual book is a fold out affair and would make a welcome edition to any one with an interest in stunning photos and Palestine

I was born There ,I was born Here by Mourid Barghouti

I was born there ,I was born Here by Mourid Barghouti

Palestine memoir

Translator – Humphrey Davies

Source – Review copy

I was sent this late last year read it but never got to review it but just at the moment seems the right time to review it ,with the current situation in Gaza .I reviewed his earlier book I saw Ramallah .Mourid Barghouti is a Palenstine Poet   .He grew up in Ramallah in Palenstie ,he went in the late sixties to study in Egypt and was caught in Egypt by the six day war .Thus he spent the next thirty years in Exile first in Egypt where he married a well known Egyptian writer ,then he spent time in Hungary as a representative of the PLO.He returned in 1996 for the first time to Palenstine ,this made up the earlier book I reviewed I saw Ramllah ,this book is kind of a follow up .

The passengers don’t appear particularly upset at the news of the impending attack announced by Mahmoud .In fact ,the fat passenger sitting in front of me in the middle seat comments sacastically “as if the film needed more action! every day they kill us retail and once in a while they get the urge to kill us wholesale .Big deal !

From section with the driver Mahmoud the everyday living under attack

I was born There ,I was born Here is a collection of snippets of life through Barghouti eyes ,we meet his driver whilst he is Palestine at a literature festival Mamhoud ,we see him telling Mourid his view on life in Palestine ,living under constant attack  and how they just cope with it as part of there lives .Elsewhere we see how the world of writers have been involved when he meets Jose Saramago a writer who once compared Ramallah’s situation to that at Auschwitz .There is a great story about the struggle to get from place to place when they are stopped by some soldiers at a roadblock in Israeli .Showing his son his birth place in Deir Ghassana is a touching moment .

“You are in violation of the law ”

“What’s the driver’s license got to do with you ? Are you a traffic policeman ? Only the Palestinian traffic police can punish me ,which it will have the right to do .This is what the argeement between us says ”

“I don’t know anthing about agreements .Screw agreements .Here the only law is the law of the state of Israel understood ?

A conversation when there car is stopped en route to Deir Ghassanah

Like I saw Ramallah the poet in Mourid Barghouti has a keen observer eyes among the struggle of everyday life in modern Palestine is a dry wit ,the fact that yes life is hard but they can most of the time see humour in the situations they find  . Now it hard to take sides in the conflict between Palestine and Israeli .But I find reading books from both sides makes you think how bad things are especially for the Palestinian people that seem to have been given the rough end of the deal completely after the formation of Israeli . I do often wonder where all this will end up (having grown up with half my family from ulster ,I know there can be some hope for many years ago that situation seemed to be with out end the some how managed to sort itself out ) .So I hope you read this book and get an insight into the everyday in Palestine.Another wonderful translation by Humphrey Davies from Arabic .A last wordfrom me  my heart goes out to those on both sides that have needlessly lost there lives in recent days  .

Do you have a favourite Palenstine writer ?

A rift in time ( travels with my Ottoman uncle) by Raja Shehadeh

Raja Shehadeh is a Palestine writer ,lawyer and human rights activist ,he studied in London ,his father was also a lawyer .He was one of the first people to accept the need for a two state solution to the Arab /Israeli conflict he also found the Al -Haq human rights organization  which monitors human rights in Palestine .he has published a number of other books in 2008 he won the Orwell prize  for his book Palestine walks .

A rift in time starting point is Raja researching his family background and coming across his uncle Najib ,which he didn’t know a lot about but an interesting and unique man appear from the mist of time .A character that Raja decides to follow almost a hundred year later .Najib was a writer,journalist and  romantic guy ,who was  very critical of certain decisions that were taking place in the Ottoman empire around the time of the first world war ,mainly their decision to join that war but also a worry about the growth in the region around what would be modern Israeli .This lead to Najib facing the death sentence and going on the run around what is now Lebanon ,Jordan ,Palestine and Israeli .A lot of the small villages that his uncle visited were wiped out in the 1948 war  .so we travel meet the locals and Raja does a wonderfully poetic job in showing Najib experiences and his own along the same route .He builds up the tension as Najib runs out of places to hide ,but to find out if he gets caught and what Raja discovers I suggest you read the book .

In planning the route of his escape ,Najib had not been hampered by the political borders that many Palenstines are not allowed to cross today .Under the Ottomans on the eve of the first world war there is no administrative unit called Palenstine.Hafia ,acre ,Safad and Tiberias were part of the Beirut sanjaq (an administrative subdivision of a Vilayet or province) .

Raja beginning his Research into his uncle Najib’s  escape from death sentence .

I enjoyed the evenness of Raja writing it is so easy given the situations in the area to get bog down in facts figures and most of all the politics of the region ,these are touched on but don’t drive the story ,which is heartbreaking at times ,touching at others the loss villages and a colourful past due to the wiping out of so many villages in the late 20th century .

here is a Guardian interview with Raja

Raja is currently in the UK you can catch him here –

Friday 4 March 2011 – 6.30-8pm, FREE

Raja Shehadeh:A Rift in Time-Travels with My Ottoman Uncle
Raja will be in conversation with British-Palestinian filmmaker Omar Al-Qattan.
Places are strictly limited, please RSVP 020 7370 9990,
A.M. Qattan Foundation, The Mosaic Rooms, Tower House, 226 Cromwell Road, London SW5 0SW, UK

Saturday 5 March – 10:00

BBC Radio 4 Excess Baggage – Raja Shehadeh talking to Chris Wilson

Sunday 6 March – 17:00 Jewish Book Week

A Rift in Time – Raja Shehadeh interviewed by Jo Glanville

Tickets £10. To book in advance go online Or call 0844 847 2274

Jewish Book Week, Royal National Hotel, Bedford Way, London WC1 0DG

Monday 7 March – 18:00

Glasgow Aye, Write! Festival

Venue: Mitchell Library, Glasgow G3 7DN
Tel 0141 287 2999
Cost: £8/£6

Mordechai’s moustache and his wife’s cats by Mahmoud Shukair

source – library

Mahmoud Shukair was born in Jerusalem mount scopius in 1941 ,studied philosophy at university and was Palestine minster of culture from 97 -00 ,he has also been a Journalist and is currently working on the  mahmoud Darwish prize ,he has a great site in arabic that I translated via  google .Mordechai’s moustache is a collection of stories and Vignettes his first collection to be translated in to english by Banipal books .

The book has four longer short stories ,all funny and poignant in their own ways ,a talk about the Columbian pope star Shakira hows family originate from Palestine originally ,a tale about will the brazilian footballer Ronaldo come to Palestine ,the title story a funny tale set on a board post a touch of gallows humor .But the main part I loved was the Vignettes these were total gems ,they remind me of Ben Okri describing the process when he wrote his ultra short stories for tales of freedom as being like fiction Hakiu ,well I think these are like that ,these are like postcards of life under fire  a Polaroid of Palestine some of these made me belly laugh the man sing to a women that had moved ,others were dark a murder scene by a fountain,you jump in and out weather it shopping ,loss .It is clever mix the palenstine situaton leads to a dark humour which is wonderfully caught in the title story .the stories are vivid are vibrant

Mordechai was a simple man .There were tens of thousands like him in Tel Aviv .However ,he insisted that there were few like him there .He liked to live an easy , comfortable life , not disturbing anyone and not being disturbed by anyone .that,s why Mordechai continued to be like by his neighbours ,for he did not disturb them .mordechai joined the army and left it .

opening of title story .

Most of the stories were translated by Issa Bouletta ,who’s retired gentleman I read a couple of years ago another book worth reading .the book is short 110 pages .a  wonderful view of a fractured land and its people

Have you read any Palestine fiction ?


Mourid Barghouti is a Palestine poet and writer ,he has lived in Egypt ,Kuwait and Bulgaria ,he has published numerous volumes of poetry in arabic ,I saw Ramallah is his autobiographical narrative of his return to Palestine after nearly thirties years .He is married to the Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour ,they have a son ,they lived apart after Mourid was expelled from Egypt in the seventies and spent most of seventeen years apart .

The book opens with Mourid nervously crossing the bridge in to Palestine and his homeland of Ramallah ,he is due to give a speech at his town ,there is an opening of a new culture centre .

I said once to a friend “when Palestine is no longer a chain worn with an evening dress ,an ornament or a memory or a golden Qur’an ,when we walk on Palestine dust ,and wipe it off our shirts collars and off our shoes ,hurrying to conduct our daily affairs – our passing ,normal ,boring affairs -when we grumble about the heat  in Palestine and the dullness of staying there to long ,then we will really have come close too it ”

a passage from early in the book .

As you can see Mourid words are poetic at time the narrative wonders forward and back in time from the present his worries at returning to Palestine  after such a time ,this heigtens on the second or so day when he returns to his home town of Deir Ghassanah ,after a long absent he remembers that every house used to have a special name in his youth ,the family and how the married with in the town ,elsewhere he recounts the passing of thirty years as an exile and in some ways a nomad .He has never felt settle ,after being forcibly removed from Egypt ,spend time in Budapest as a PLO representative .he comes to Deir Ghassanah     ,and the memories flood back ,he gets nervous about giving the speech to open the  culture centre to his peers and family members .

This book is one of the most powerful pieces I ve read Mourid life is laid bare ,his poetic tones hid great sadness at points ,the feeling of never belonging after losing your homeland for thirty years ,but on his return it feels vastly different the restrictions and the change in his beautiful homeland shock him .I leave this review with his own closing words which seem very fitting .

What deprives the spirit of colours ?

What is it other than the bullets of the invaders that have hit the body ?

good questions indeed .

June 2023


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