The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa // book review

The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa

Come home brother. There is no dignity in life or death away from your home and family.

The Blue Between Sky and Water is a powerful story of a family forced to leave their idyllic village of Beit Daras in 1948 for a refugee camp in Gaza. The story focuses on Nazmiyeh’s family - a woman who experienced love, violence and death in her long life in the largest open-air prison - Gaza. The story is fictional but gives this multi-generational family saga an account of a political and historical view, similar to Mornings in Jenin it reflects the reality of many Palestinians.

Nazmiyeh marries the love of her life Atiyeh and they together have 11 sons and still await for a daughter, for she heard the prophecy from her little sister Miriam, whose death she witnessed. Their life shows a glimpse of what life in Gaza look like, they experience caloric restrictions, air raids and limited medical supplies yet they try to live life the best they know, according to Koran. There is always hope and believe for a better time. There are also tunnels to Egypt and kids trying their luck with bringing things restricted in Gaza. They risk their lives every day when for example husbands sett on daily fishing for providing food for the family that they might not come back as Israel limit also the access to the sea. Yet family life continues with bits of joy whenever it’s possible.

If life in Gaza filled with loss and violence is not emotional enough there is one more heart-breaking story of Nur set in America. Nazmiyeh brother migrates with his wife to America, they have a son who dies soon after his daughter Nur is born. Widower Mamdouh is extremely close with Nur and he makes plans to come back with her to Gaza. Unfortunately, he dies before that and the girl’s displacement and the horrible story start. She comes back for a while to her biological mother where she is molested by her stepfather before being places in number of foster homes. The only person who cares for her is a social worker although she couldn’t do much to send Nur to her family abroad. Nur’ life is a heart-breaking comparison to the life in Gaza, her loneliness and detachment and what she experiences in foster homes seem like a much worse compared to what her cousins suffered as they were at least surrounded by people who love them and care for them.

“Nur started school living with her foster family, and it would be many years before she would begin to roam her memories and taste the empty adequacy of foster care: the three sufficient daily meals, white walls and clean floors, chores and strictly enforced regiments, and a room she shared with three others foster girls, much older than she, who spoke with such profanity that Nur tried to stay away from them”.

Nur occurrence with foster institutions is powerful in many ways, it clearly shows how in a way of doing good, the big damage is done and how little thoughts goes to children itself being places there. Officials and those who earn money running foster homes can never give love and care as a real family does. This knows exactly Nzinga, a refugee from South Africa, who was the only friend of Nur during her whole life in America.

“The third through sixth foster homes were a blur, blending together into a single incident where some older kids pissed in a cup and poured it on her while she slept, then accused her of wetting the bed. Nur didn’t know how to retaliate. Everything inside of her, words, rage, humiliation, even joy would try to find a way out, but it all got stuck. In her that, her belly, behind her eyes. Nothing made its way out”.

When Nur finally finds a way to go to Gaza, she feels like being home despite harshness and unsafe life over there. In that time Nazmiyeh has become an old and respectable matriarch who despite humiliation and loss keeps good spirit and rejoicing.

I read lots of reviews which says that people lack the credibility of Nur coming back to Gaza, how she could so easily adapt to life over there. I feel that Nur suffered a lot but her nasty life in foster homes was much worse. In Gaza at least she felt that she belongs to the family, people care for her, they might not be enough food and yes it’s dangerous but she has grown up with three meals on the table and she knows how little it is compared to people’s affection. So I found Nur persona the most tragic and real, also is important to say that her life reflects Susan Abulhawa’s life, who has grown up in foster institutions in the US as well.

The Blue Between Sky and Water is a mighty portrait of the power of family surrounded by violence and hardship. This is a beautiful portrait of womanhood and motherhood and female characters in the story of Nazmiyeh, Beekeeper’s widow, Alwan and Nur (and many others) show compassion, solicitude and toughness in brutal reality. Susan Abulhawa has an extraordinary storytelling talent, giving an account of women story and exhibiting their importance in family life in the extraordinary political backdrop is extremely moving, tearful yet enormous. This multi-generational family saga is poignant and it gives a sight of Palestinians life.
Certainly, I highly recommend this story to read as well as the author’s previous book Mornings in Jenin.

Reviewer: Monika Barrera
Date published: 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
Language: English
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
ISBN 978-1-4088-6510-1
Review rating: 5/5