Abulhawa (Mornings in Jenin, 2010) mixes magical realism, family melodrama, and politics in her storytelling about several generations of Palestinian women trying to survive in Gaza before and during the Israeli occupation.
In 1948, soldiers from the newly established state of Israel attack the village of Beit Daras, raping and killing without remorse. Among those killed is Mariam, an unusually gifted child who has been taught to read and write by her friend Khaled. Mariam’s sister, Nazmiyeh, assumes Khaled is imaginary until his picture appears in a photograph. Khaled is somehow reborn or transmitted into Nazmiyeh’s grandson Khaled, born in 1998. By then, Nazmiyeh’s brother, Mamdouh, has moved to America. His son, Mike, marries a Castilian-American, with whom he has a daughter, Nur. After Mike’s death, Mamdouh wins custody of Nur but dies before he can return with her to Gaza. As a child, Nur experiences one travail after another, including an unloving “narcissist” for a mother, sexual abuse, and a string of foster homes. But she makes it through graduate school to become a therapist. Eventually, drawn by her Palestinian roots and her attraction to a Palestinian doctor, Nur ends up in Beit Daras, where she studies the case of a young boy who has fallen into a “coma-like" condition since an Israeli attack. The boy is Khaled, but Nur is at first unaware of their family ties. Nur’s personal drama intertwines with not only her family's story, but with all of Gaza’s struggle against the Israelis. In italicized sections, Abulhawa not only explains events in the narrative through Khaled’s perceptions, but also gives what seems to be her own take on key moments in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
While a folk tale–like spirituality infuses the storytelling, readers’ enjoyment will mostly depend on how they react to Abulhawa’s violently anti-Israel and slightly milder anti-American perspectives.