If the reader is looking for easy explanations to the Palestinian refugees' war with the nation of Israel, Jean Genet's book is not the place to seek them. And I don't advise readers to pick through the text looking for the succinct sentences in which Genet clearly states why he's on the side of the Palestinians, or if he's anti-Israel, or anti-American. There is no proof of reviewer Tim Keane's conclusion that Genet "seethes with hatred of Israel"; there are no such violent emotions in Prisoner of Love. At 430 pages, be prepared to find subtleties of experience shaded by conflicting responses--nuances completely unavailable via print journalism or network news, CNN, or Al Jazeera. But the very fact that Genet wanted to observe life in the refugee camps shows that he had to make a choice. Nearly all the protagonists of his memoir, this textual "souvenirs," are Palestinians and generally Muslim. Indeed, the compelling force which drives the relatively plotless Prisoner of Love are the individuals to whom Jean attachments himself: the dynamic Lieutenant Mubarak, Dr. Mahjoub and the charismatic female doctor, Dr. Nabila, Khaled Abu Khaled and Abu Omar, and an accomplished woman friend, a blond Lebanese guide and translator, Nidal, and dozens of other people. Genet was particularly attached to Hamza and his mother, who he attempts to find again after his absence from Palestine for nearly 14 years. We cannot forget the common fedayee rebel, the fedayeen as a whole who fought to make the Palestinian plight known.
When evaluating Prisoner of Love, it's important to remember that Genet is a writer. Throughout his work, Genet tells us how difficult it is to recount his experiences since he's not sure at times what he's seeing, and he must make his writing conform to the necessities of craft. And whatever writing craft decisions Jean made it is clear that the Palestinians "wrote" him as well; Jean was seldom in control of his experience. As I read, I realized that Genet is the ultimate refugee; he seeks to be with people who are like him. My conclusion is this: Palestine chose him.
Only Genet could have written this book. He is a bruised romantic searching for a resting place that will caress both his homeless intellect and his orphaned body: "A little while ago I wrote that though I shall die, nothing else will. And I must make my meaning clear. Wonder at the sight of a corn-flower, at a rock, at the touch of a rough hand--all the millions of emotions of which I'm made--they won't disappear even though I shall. Other men will experience them, and they'll still be there because of them. More and more I believe I exist in order to be the terrain and proof which show other men that life consists in the uninterrupted emotions flowing through all creation" (361). As an orphan with prison experience, and disaffected from France, Genet was willing to try on other peoples' lives; I suspect that without the structure dictated by the craft of writing, and his talent coming to the attention of well-known writers, Genet would have disappeared into the French prison system.
Another conclusion I came to: Genet shows us the difference between terrorism and Arab nationalism. Is there any hope that the U.S., of which I am a native-born citizen, will ever figure out this difference?
Overwhelmingly, the single image I have of Prisoner of Love is that to read it is to travel the land that dwelled *in* Jean Genet, this traveler who was intelligent enough to let his emotions guide him. And only by reading can I share in living a life which speaks so eloquently of rebellion and blood, of life and death.