Susan Abulhawa’s brave writing has resulted in a sweeping read. From its first pages, Mornings in Jenin moves rapidly through the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the ensuing changes faced by the generations rooted in that land. The morality of this book is centered on relationships: family, friendships, romantic affairs, death, survival and change. As everywhere, relationships shape human identities and, in Jenin, the Abulheja family’s relationships (personal, spiritual and national) are pushed to extremes. From the first generation of Palestinians to become refugees, deep into the present, where “terror” has become a Western buzzword, their stories are exhilarating and heartbreaking.
Even during the novel’s most grotesque moments, its voices remain authentic. The plot relies mainly on the memory of its characters, lending an unusually lifelike feeling to the narration. The story moves with such speed that the mixed languages and unfamiliar names in this text quickly start to feel natural, making reader to feel as at home as the narrator does. (Foreign languages tend to highlight the distance between here and there, so Abulhawa graciously provides a glossary, just in case!)
Amal Abulheja’s voice is the strongest and her first-person passages become the main narrative, following her mother and female friends through the cycles of Arab womanhood. Her father, brother, husband and male friends tell the story of Palestinian men who cherish their families and land but are systematically weakened and frustrated by occupation. Sympathetic Jews and Israelis, and Westerners of all nuances, are interspersed throughout the story, providing a more complete view of a very complex situation. Although the reader cannot expect a totally happy ending in a story about war, the author’s message remains one of hope.
Mornings in Jenin is an unflagging amalgamation of history, deep personal and cultural memory, and current affairs. It is certainly a worthy vessel by which to measure the Abulheja family during their transformation from farmers to hardened refugees and resistance fighters. The author chose wisely when dividing the story into short chapters; it can be far too emotionally draining for a single sitting! However, I highly recommend this novel, particularly for readers who like Leon Uris: Mornings in Jenin vividly humanizes the Palestinian story and draws much-needed attention to the faces behind the front lines.
Check out Susan Abulhawa’s blog and Mornings in Jenin Facebook page for more information.
Caitlin is a fiction writer who also dabbles in poetry, creative nonfiction and acrylic painting. When not reading, she enjoys hiking, cooking and spending time with friends and pets.
This book was provided free of any obligation by Bloomsbury USA. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.