Title: Mornings in Jenin
Author: Susan Abulhawa
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
“They murdered you and buried you in their headlines, mother.”
In every story you read, there will always be, at least one line that will be unforgettable. Every story has some ideas that passionate readers will remember. Every story is worth remembering in some way or another, and when it comes to Palestinian stories, everything is worth remembering.
I also believe that every reader has to have in their bookshelves at least two to three books about Palestine, and I say at least. One of these books must be “Mornings in Jenin,” a novel of light mornings in dark cities, where your soul will be taken there, and it will never come back the same.
The novel was previously published in a hardcover edition with a limited run under the title The Scar of David, but it is now available in a fully revised, newly titled paperback edition.
How the story goes
The main character is called Amal (the Arabic word for hope, with a long vowel, indicating plural.) So there is so much hope, in a story of heartbreak, longing, and so much loss.
“Mornings in Jenin” is about the struggle of Palestinians we read and hear about in the news every day. However, the difference is how the story is told, and here is how.
The novel starts in the village of Ein Hod, where the family of Abulheja lived under their beloved olive groves, feeding love to their trees and warmth to their soil.
The story of Amal, however, starts when the family forcibly moves to Jenin refugee camp, where she loses her father to a bullet from the Israeli forces.
Amal lived a life witnessing death and loss every day. Her brother, Ismael, is taken and raised by an Israeli family, and is later named David.He grows up to be an Israeli soldier, but with Palestinian blood still running in his veins.
Amal then goes to a boarding school in Jerusalem before moving to the U.S. on a scholarship. Her memories haunt her until she is old and wearisome, but she struggles to fight them by raising a daughter and teaching her to distance herself from Palestine, politics and everything about war and the scars they left on her.
The flow of events is carried out through four generations of Palestinians who run for their lives until there is one absolution.
They share feelings of love, friendship, hatred, and agony. They see death in their everyday life, and receive it with so much tears and suffering, but somehow manage to always fight back.
Susan Abulhawa uses simple, meaningful language which suits the plot and story perfectly. She adds Arabic words to give you a glimpse of pain in that language. She also uses poems for Mahmoud Darweesh, a great Palestinian poet whose popularity is wide among the Arab readers, as well as Gibran Khalil Gibran’s words.
The song “Zahrat Al Madaaen”; (the most famous Arabic song about Jerusalem, by the prominent singer Fayrouz) was also vivid within the papers of the book, as an Arab reader, I almost heard Fayrouz in my ears singing it.
I found “Mornings in Jenin” somehow similar to Ghassan Kanafani’s “Returning to Haifa”, in the sense of losing a child to an Israeli family. They both depict how the family you grow up with truly defines where your hatred will be directed, without so much as looking for truths.
“Mornings in Jenin” is a story that will deeply touch your heart, sometimes you will hate being so helpless, and other times you will despise that feeling of guilt that usually goes nowhere but to some helpless prayers that you wish are answered sooner than you think.It is not a lightly sad read; it is an intensely sad novel, so my advice is not to read it if you are already downhearted, because as a matter of fact, it will not help at all.
I have read many stories on the Palestinian conflict, and I can honestly and confidently say that no story has brought tears to my eyes like “Mornings in Jenin” did, aside from, of course, the collective works of Kanafani. I still go back to the book and leaf through the pages, and end up at the final lines of the novel, where I was weeping uncontrollably while reading the ending.
May we free our minds someday to truly believe that Palestinian stories are not just stories. May we bring happiness to sad Palestine someday..