British-Palestinian writer Dabbagh’s debut examines her people’s tragic past and conflicted present through the prism of one family’s experiences.
The Mujaheds are the sort of intellectual, nonreligious Palestinians who once formed the expatriate backbone of the struggle to reclaim their homeland, but who are rapidly being marginalized in Gaza. Indeed, Jibril, the father, has abandoned the Palestinian Liberation Organisation—and his wife and kids—for the consumerist narcolepsy of a Gulf state. Rashid, like his father, just wants to get out of Gaza and is thrilled in the opening pages to get a scholarship that will enable him to return to London and his English girlfriend Lisa. His twin sister Iman is frustrated by the Women’s Committee she’s joined, whose members disdain her as an outsider who’s only recently returned to Gaza. The only people who seem to share her thirst for meaningful action are the Islamic fundamentalists who gain credibility each time the Israeli army bombs civilian sites or bulldozes Palestinian homes. Their mother, once the most militant of all, is reduced to clipping newspaper articles and answering questions for a history of the movement being written by eldest son Sabri, who lost both his legs, his wife and his infant son in a car bombing facilitated by a Palestinian informer. Dabbagh unsparingly shows a people divided and demoralized by six decades of exile and powerlessness, and her novel quietly but acidly indicts Western ignorance of and indifference to the Palestinians’ plight. Yet, the book is also a finely wrought tale of family and coming-of-age that fulfills the mandates of any serious work of fiction: Dabbagh creates characters we care about, puts their equally valid but conflicting agendas into play and engineers an ending that brings individual satisfactions and some closure without ever suggesting that the larger dilemmas have been resolved.
Fine work from a gifted writer who has important subject matter to explore.