A posthumously published recollection about life as a Palestinian exile.
Born in Palestine in 1940, Salem spent her early life with her prosperous family in Jaffa. She played with her friends and siblings, dressed in lovely clothes and was a wee bit spoiled. Then came 1948, the Nakba, the Disaster. When a group of Zionist soldiers entered a mosque in Jaffa and opened fire on a crowd, her family left the city. Young Salem was confused. She asked her mother why the Jews were “evil,” why they wanted to kill people, and her mother had no explanation. This began a life of wandering exile for Salem and her family. They went first to Nablus, where they lived for more than a decade. As an adult, Salem lived in Kuwait, Vienna and Italy. Throughout, she interweaves stories of quotidian matters with reflections on politics. The “so-called” Six-Day War “struck like a bolt of lightening.” The outcome of the war, which made many Palestinians feel orphaned again, was inevitable, due to America’s “unlimited” support for Israel, and because of the “political inadequacy” of Arab countries. From her earliest days, Salem brought a precociously feminist sensibility to bear on life. She rebelled against the restrictive gender roles of her childhood home, and, as an adult, enjoyed political work with other women. Her memoir has a somewhat distant and mediated feel—not surprising, given that Salem dictated it on her deathbed in Italian. Still, much of the prose is direct, spare and stirring in its simplicity: “Gradually we became aware that we had lost everything. . . . We had heard about the inhuman treatment of the Jews in World War II, but we wondered why we had to be the ones to pay for horrors committed by others.”
Evocative and discomforting, and relevant to contemporary clashes in the Middle East.