on 10 January 2005
This book of poems reflects a personal emotional journey taken by Nahida, a Palestinian refugee and exile. In it she describes the horrors of daily life in Palestine, and her feelings of anger, sorrow, and hope. There have been many books written about Palestine, packed with information and statistics, but these poems bring home the reality in a far more direct way.
Written in short lines, they read like natural, poetic speech, while their styles suit their subjects.
A few examples from the 51 poems to give a flavour of their variety:
Nahida describes some familiar scenes from unusual perspectives, such as by a tear, in "The wisdom of a tear drop", a beating heart in "A conversation between two hearts", and a stone in "A Palestinian stone speaks out" when a small boy is shot dead for throwing this stone, which speaks for him: the evil bullet was faster than his little hand/ his frail...pale body falls to the ground...his gentle soft palm/ gave my soul/ its peaceful eternal hug!"
In "Mathematical politics" the author uses algebra, humor and irony to describe the history of Palestinian PROBLEM, and complicated solutions put forward by different kinds of Zionists and the strait-forward easy solution by an ordinary person.
"Alice in Holy Land" portrays the surreal-"in this land of wonders, Alice saw/ murderers get Noble Peace Prizes...."
"The Play" contains 4 scenes, from 1948, 1967, 1987 and 2004. In each an Israeli soldier is ordered to "shoot them, kill them, burn them, don't leave any of them". "But sir, they're only unarmed civilians". "These are orders". The final scene: "but, sir I DID, and I can't get rid of them".
"Ashraf in the park" is about the author's 5-year-old nephew, visiting from Ram Allah. Nahida describes his inability to play, frozen and fearful of the tanks round the corner. Finally he is persuaded to cross the bridge over a climbing frame; with encouragement. Landing on the other side he cries;" I made it! I passed the Check-point!"
"Spot the Difference is about crimes and "crimes" as depicted in the western media. Guess which are which.
The author illustrated the book her self, and at first glance I found some of the drawings oddly incongruous with the content. Many pages are decorated with patched hearts and flowers with faces and fallen petals, all in pastel colours. Then it struck me they are a deliberate antidote to the violent daunting events, and symbolic of the hope for freedom, justice and peace.
The author and her family were forced to leave their home in Jerusalem in 1967, in the six-day war, when she was 7 years old. As the oldest of 5, later 7 children, she helped her mother care for the younger ones through the years of living as refugees. As a result some of the poems are from a child's viewpoint, while one in particular, "Will I ever grow again?" spells out-"life on hold/ my internal clock is shattered into pieces/ .....I was seven/ I am seven/ I will be seven / until the day of my return".
"Palestine ...the True Story" contains photographs of Palestinian families and scenes of death and destruction perpetrated by the Israeli army. The text describes what it feels like to be a Palestinian father , grandmother, child, living in constant fear; the feeling of shame at being unable to protect loved ones, the sense of being raped and traumatized, some times leading to madness ; the guilt felt by exiles for being relatively safe . In writing these accounts Nahida is not asking us to sympathize, but to try to understand.
As with the poems, the final message is one of determination to live life as fully as possible and to keep hope alive.
Though the subject of Palestine's occupation and oppression is of course distressing, the power and variety of these poems leaves the reader not depressed but moved. Besides the stories of cruelty and grief lie images of lyrical beauty and love of all forms of life. There is righteous anger here, but no hatred or bitterness; Nahida's humanity and love for all people is humbling and inspiring.
A review cannot do justice to this collection; buy it, read it, pass it on.