Two co-founders of the Palestine Festival of Literature (PalFest), mother and son, collect an array of emotional pieces from this international gathering of writers begun in 2008.
Editors Soueif (Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed, 2014, etc.) and Hamilton (The City Always Wins, 2017, etc.) begin and end the collection—she with an introduction and an essay; he with the longest piece, which encapsulates the conference since 2008. There are some poems, as well, including Suheir Hammad’s affecting “The Gaza Suite,” whose sections are distributed throughout. The collection includes plenty of notable writers familiar to Western readers: the late Henning Mankell, Geoff Dyer, Alice Walker, and Chinua Achebe, whose offerings range from tributes to the PalFest itself to accounts of their own experiences attending. There is also a touching account of Richard Ford’s nearly breaking down while reading a Seamus Heaney poem. Most of the writers, though, are from the region, and their messages—oft repeated—are clear: Israel is, in their view, basically running an open-air prison; countless innocent civilians, including many children, have died; Israel is in the process of erasing the evidence of many generations of inhabitants. These, of course, are not messages that will attract Israel’s many supporters, but others in the West—who, as some of the authors here point out, know little about the conflict—will no doubt be alarmed at the vast array of grim detail and example. Although the writers concur that Israel is doing something awful, there are few allusions to a violent response. Instead, the writers express the belief that words will be the things with feathers that will eventually bring attention—and peace. Other notable contributors include J.M. Coetzee, Raja Shehadeh, Michael Ondaatje, Claire Messud, Teju Cole, Pankaj Mishra, and Kamila Shamsie.
A chorus of lyrical voices singing hopefully about a most contentious, divisive, and violent situation.