Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa // book review

Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa
I read that one needs to have the right mood for reading book Mornings in Jenin, too cheerful can drastically sink in tears and too morose can make all problems trivial. Either way, it is so eye-opening story and in my humble opinion it’s a must-read book.

Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa is a story of a four-generation family who in 1948 by the newly formed state of Israel was forced to leave their ancient home village of Ein Hod and moved to the refugee camp in Jenin. The Abulhejas family is fictional but the book is based on historical facts and firmly based on the author’s childhood memories. Life in exile, things which seem temporary, become permanent, a home which was no home anymore and so tenderly treated olive trees claimed to belong to Israeli. This is the Palestinian story and their oppression by Jews, who suffered themselves greatly, yet their treatment of Palestinians is shockingly sad.

The roots of our grief coil so deeply into the loss that death has come to live with us like a family member who makes you happy by avoiding you, but who is still one of the family. Our anger is a rage that Westerners cannot understand. Our sadness can make the stone weep. And the way we love is no exception

The story is told by Amal born in 1955 in a refugee camp which was all she knew about home, where she has friends, goes to school and witnessed death.

“After Israel conquered Palestine in 1967, we never went to Jerusalem again. It was too difficult at first and eventually we weren’t allowed. On its first day of occupation, Israel bulldozed the entire Moroccan neighbourhood of some two hundred ancient houses and several hundred residents, who were given less than two hours’ notice to evacuate. Muslims and Christians alike, Greeks and Armenians saw most of their property confiscated, while they themselves were evicted to ghettos or exiled”.

Amal was growing up not only in the spirit of a lost land but also in the atmosphere of a big loss which her parents were not able to cope with. In 1947 when they were told to leave their home for the first time. Amal’s mother, Dalia lost her little son in a flood of people. He was basically snatched by an Israeli soldier who soon after offered him to his wife as a gift from God. They loved their adopted (stolen) son dearly and they brought him up as a Jew. They named him David and his story is no less heartbreaking than Amal. Throughout his life, Abulhawa proves how both sides of this conflict were victims but there is no doubt that this is a story of Palestinians who suffered greatly.

The whole story is divided by the chapters which titles says already a whole plot of this book. The catastrophe, the disaster, the scar of David, state of being stranger, my heart in Beirut, what there is between us, my country, an end and a beginning. From the author’s note, we get to know that the story was first published with the title The Scar of David in 2002. It went out without any remarks but it was translated to French and then thanks to the editor under new title was published in English.

I can’t express myself well enough how grateful I am for this heartbreaking but so astonishing story which I highly recommend to read anyone who is interested in the conflict in the Middle East.

This is a book I am struggling to write a reasonable review as it affected me on so many emotional levels and even now after 6 months after I read it I have tears in my eyes thinking about Morning in Jenin’s powerful story. And I know how ridicules it sounds when someone says just read this book but Mornings in Jenin is a tremendous story for anyone who tries to understand how conflict affects the real people. The book is written in a beautiful language and I encourage you to make time and read it!

If you are inspired and interested to read more about Palestine, here are suggested readings:

  • Khaled Hosseini The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns Sandy Tolan The Lemon Tree
  • Jean Said Makdisi Teta, Mother and Me: Three Generations of Arab Women
  • Edward Said Out of Palce, A Memoir
  • Ibtisam Barakat Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood
  • Sari Nusseibeh Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life
  • Rajah Shehadeh Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape
  • Ghana Karmi In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story
  • Mourid Barghouti I Saw Ramallah Elizabeth Laird A Little Piece of Ground

I could quote almost the whole book so let me add one more quote which desxribes in in nutshell, how some Israeli man (I don’t want to mention his name from the book to don’t spoil your reading) reckon home which used to belong to Palestinians:

“He looked on in silence at the proof of what Israelis already know, that their history is contrived from the bones and traditions of Palestinians. The Europeans who came knew neither hummus nor falafel but later proclaimed the “authentic Jewish cuisine”. They claimed the villas of Qatamon as “old Jewish homes”. They had no photographs or ancient drawings of their ancestry living on the land, loving it, and planting it. They arrived from foreign nations and uncovered coins in Palestine’s earth from the Canaanites, the Romans, the Ottomans, then sold them as their own “ancient Jewish artefacts”. They came to Jaffa and found oranges the size of watermelons and said, “Behold! The Jews are known for their oranges”. But those oranges were the culmination of centuries of Palestinian farmers perfecting the art of citrus growing.”

Original Title: The Scar of David
Date published: 01 September 2006
Publisher: Journey Publications, 331 pp
Language: English
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
ISBN 978-1-60819-046-1
Reviewer: Monika Barrera
Review rating: 5/5