A moving memoir of a young woman’s political awakening under occupation.
Having lived an unusually sheltered life even by American standards, Olson was dangerously naïve when she first arrived in Jordan. Curious about what the situation was really like, beyond the confusing headlines, and attracted by the “chance to witness history as it was being made,” she nearly chartered a taxi to Baghdad before she was convinced to head to the West Bank instead. A fortuitous decision, this unplanned voyage led the author to connect with a diverse and generous group of individuals navigating the daily challenges of security patrols and checkpoints. Spending much of her time in Jayyous, a small farming community not entirely dissimilar to the Oklahoma town where she grew up, Olson lived in Palestine for more than two years, quickly adapting to and assimilating the shifting reality on both sides of the Green Line. In warmhearted, evocative prose, she recounts her numerous adventures, from the everyday (harvesting olives, attending weddings) to the more unusual (her work as an adviser to Mustafa Barghouthi as he ran for president of a nonexistent country). She never entirely lost her air of the ingénue, and her political analysis is sometimes debatable, but the strength of the narrative lies in Olson’s investigation of the personal and mental effects of oppression and war on herself and her newfound friends, “the atmosphere of mute shock expressed only in sidelong glances…of knowing something few people knew, and of genuine connection and collective struggle.”
Where paradox is as common as breathing, Olson discovers a kind of freedom amid the barbed wire. An empathetic, intriguing memoir.