One of the reasons why we are hosting the Literary Voyage Reading Challenge this year is because we are deeply aware of the power of words – and how it can effectively influence our perspectives about ourselves and the world we live in. We are hoping that the more we discover about those whom we have always perceived as “the other” – we get to appreciate how fundamentally similar we are from each other, dissolving the very ideation of “us” versus “them.”
Edited By: Ahdaf Soueif and Omar Robert Hamilton with Messages from Michael Ondaatje and J. M. Coetzee and Chinua Achebe
Published by: Bloomsbury, 2017
ISBN: 1408884984 (ISBN13: 9781408884980). Borrowed from Jurong West Public Library. Book quotes taken by me.
I found this book purely by accident as I was idly going through the library’s bookshelves, looking for something interesting to read. I suppose I could just as well claim that this book has found me. I have always been deeply drawn to what has been happening to Palestine – ever since I read Joe Sacco’s multi-award-winning graphic novel travelogue/ reportage Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza which I shared here several years back, and Alice Walker’s Overcoming Speechlessness which I reviewed here.
I have read over 500 books last year, and over 700 books in 2016, and so it is saying a lot when I say that this book has profoundly moved me. It reads almost like a physical assault, like a violent battering that happens again and again, each time I read another essay, or another poem included in this anthology.
“The protests against the visits of artists to Palestine came up. A young woman burst out, ‘Should we just be sad all the time? We need some joy in our lives.’ She had come lose faith in any overall strategy. She does not feel that she has any role or word in the future of Palestine.” – Poetry and Protest by Maath Musleh
All the writers in this book (from Michael Palin to China Mieville to Alice Walker to Kamila Shamsie to Geoff Dyer to J. M. Coetzee) have had the privilege of attending the Palestine Festival of Literature which ran for an entire week. They interacted with local Palestinian authors, and had the firsthand experience of crossing borders, and walking the same occupied territories (only those that are permitted of course) that Palestinians experience on a daily basis. Hence, my experience of reading it is somewhat like a postmodern film noir where the authors are basically depicting the same event told over and over again, but this time narrated from their own fields of experience, filtered from their own understanding, spoken through their own voices – like Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, with even the dead given a microphone through verse.
Each essay I read brought about waves of helplessness and outrage and horror that it renders me speechless at the cycle of violence perpetuated with staggering impunity and self-assured righteousness. Here are few quotes that spoke to me (I used Typorama to design these quotes). This first one, in particular, talks about love for country – which makes it a good fit for our current reading theme on love.
Then there is the significance afforded to words and the gift of language. How ingenious the entire concept of the Palestine Festival of Literature – to give voice to the disempowered and the disenfranchised through highly-esteemed and internationally recognized authors – in the hopes that maybe when they say something, there will be meaning ascribed to all this – perhaps then the world will listen? How inevitable as well for the Israeli authorities to deem this as subversive, dangerous and radical, such that the entire Festival was nearly shut down peremptorily and was forced to relocate to a different venue altogether.
Yet despite the horror, or maybe even because of it, there is a total surrender to beauty – like a whirling dervish that has abandoned itself to the here and now – because that is all there is. Nathalie Handal’s Crucifixion has ripped me open:
Then I stop. Beauty is a scar. History is a room. Longing is a gale.
The poetry interspersed among the essays served as breathing spaces – but even that may be a wrong descriptor – because they still leave the reader out of breath, in all its intensity packaged in little verses that are like bullets – zinging its way through the pages.
Then Rachel Holmes shared an excerpt from Israeli Scientist, Nathan Linial’s acceptance speech for the Rotschild Prize in April 2016 in her essay South Africa and Israel: A Familiar Geography.
Linial’s moral courage is awe-inspiring. In 2018, may there be no equivocation, no fear in speaking truth to power. Find this book. Read it. May our literary voyage take us beyond borders where slivers of truths reside.
#LitWorld2018GB Update: 7 of 40 (Palestine)