Audacious, no-holds-barred account of a Palestinian family’s suffering during 60 years of Israeli occupation.
In 1948, Yehya Abulheja, prosperous farmer and patriarch of a family that for 40 generations has occupied Ein Hod, a village near Mount Carmel, worries only about the coming olive harvest and his son Hasan’s marriage to an unsuitable Bedouin girl, Dalia. All is forgiven when Dalia bears sons Yousef and Ismael. Dismissing rumors that Jewish immigrants plan to establish their own state, annexing Palestinian lands, the Abulhejas are stunned when Ein Hod is shelled and its residents herded into a refugee camp at Jenin. During the forcible eviction, baby Ismael is snatched by an Israeli soldier desperate to help his despondent wife, a Holocaust survivor rendered sterile after repeated rapes by the SS. The couple renames the child David. Hasan and Dalia’s daughter Amal, Abulhawa’s protagonist, is born in Jenin. Ismael’s kidnapping has cost Dalia her sanity; Yehya is shot for trespassing on his former land; and Hasan disappears during the Six Day War in 1967. Yousef encounters David, an Israeli soldier whose facial scar resembles Ismael’s. After repeated beatings and torture by Israeli soldiers, including David, Yousef joins the PLO resistance fighters. Following Dalia’s death, Amal’s scholarly bent propels her from a Jerusalem orphanage/school to college in Philadelphia. She reunites with Yousef, his bride Fatima and their daughter Falasteen in Shatila, a Lebanese refugee enclave, where she teaches Palestinian children, marries Majid, a young doctor, and becomes pregnant. As Israel’s attacks on Lebanon mount, Amal returns to the States, intending to arrange for her family to follow. Soon, though, Majid perishes in the bombardment of Beirut and Fatima and Falasteen are slaughtered by the invaders. Yousef, a suspected terrorist, vanishes. In a fog of grief, Amal struggles to nurture her infant daughter, Sara. David reaches out in remorse to Amal, and a precarious healing begins.
A potent debut.