THE BLUE BETWEEN SKY AND WATER

bluebetween_192_290SUSAN ABULHAWA

BLUE tells another important story: the story of the Palestinians. It traces the Baraka family as they are forced off their land and out of their ancestral village of Beit Daras during the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland when Israel was created in 1948. They relocate to the Gaza Strip. It tells the story of Israeli colonialism, when victim becomes victimizer. But much more it describes the Palistinian culture. When they celebrate with feast and dancing: “We find our own way to freedom. Zionist sons of Satan cannot imprison our joy, can they?” The women’s culture of cooking and gossiping is beautiful. Nazmiyeh is the matriarch, the center of a household of sisters, daughters, granddaughters, whose lives threaten to spin out of control with every personal crisis, military attack, or political landmine.

“Stories matter. We are composed of our stories. The human heart is made of the words we put in it. If someone ever says mean things to you, don’t let those words go into your heart, and be careful not to put mean words in other people’s hearts.”

“But I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.”

While reading this novel I frequently thought of the song My Personal Revenge. Jackson Browne singing a Jorge Caleron Poem.

My Personal Revenge

My personal revenge will be the right
Of our children in the schools and in the gardens
My personal revenge will be to give you
This song which has flourished without panic
My personal revenge will be to show you
The kindness in the eyes of my people
Who have always fought relentlessly in battle
And been generous and firm in victory
My personal revenge will be to tell you good morning
On a street without beggars or homeless
When instead of jailing you I suggest
You shake away the sadness there that blinds you
And when you who have applied your hands in torture
Are unable to look up at what surrounds you
My personal revenge will be to give you
These hands that once you so mistreated
But have failed to take away their tenderness
It was the people who hated you the most
When rage became the language of their song
And underneath the skin of this town today
Its heart has been scarred forevermore
It was the people who hated you the most
When rage became the language of their song
And underneath the skin of this town today
Its heart has been scarred forevermore
And underneath the skin of this town today
Red and black, it’s heart’s been scarred
Forevermore
You can listen to it on you tube.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4NwJLHeYeM

I’M YOUR MAN: The Life of Leonard Cohen

cohen1

SYLVIA SIMMONS

I’ve been a Cohen fan for all my adult life. In high school I wrote an essay on his poem and later song, Suzanne. So I had a lot of fun reading his bio. I put my ipod on his music, read and savoured. Cohen is a genius and it was provocative to get a glimpse into the workings of his genius. This bio is 558 pages long so it needs a lot of skimming, especially the beginning where his childhood and youth are discussed. Though even here some of the facts were interesting: Leonard was a leader at school and youth groups – he was actually senior ring for his high school. A fact that surprised me was that he was never intimate with the Suzanne of the song; extraordinary given the fact that he was known as a ladies’ man. I hadn’t realized how little success Cohen had in the US. Even his more successful albums didn’t sell well until more recently. His most beautiful album, Various Positions, which features the song Hallelujah, was not released in the States because the record cohen2company feared it wouldn’t sell well. So if you’re a fan put on his music and enjoy.

THE IMPOSTER BRIDE

bride

NANCY RICHLER

Nancy Richler’s third novel is a family drama set in postwar Montreal, where Polish Jew Lily Azerov has come via Palestine to marry a man she has never met. When her fiance sees her his snap decision is that she isn’t for him. When his brother, Nathan, goes to apologize he proposes and soon they are married. The book is narrated by by Ruth, Sol and Elka’s daughter. The couple meet at Nathan and Ruth’s wedding that Elka and her mother Bella crash because back home Bella had a cousin named Lily Azerov. But at the wedding she realized that the bride was not her relation.

When Ruth is 3 months old, her mother Lilly went out for milk and never returned. When they checked the fridge there were many bottles of formula and a bottle of milk. The family gathered around Nathan to help raise Ruth. Elka became a surrogate mother. When she was 6 her mother sent her a chunk of quartz along with a note, written in Lily’s hand, detailing when and where the rock was found. This is the trigger that starts her wondering about where her mother could be and what had happened.  More packages arrive over the years and Ruth’s curiosity about Lily grows.

Imposter Bride is an engaging novel. A good read.

BY BLOOD

ELLEN ULLMAN

AKA: Portrait of an Obsession

This is definitely a must read.

The narrator is a disgraced professor who refers to “the terrible darkness within me” and his “morbid and afflicted” imagination — without showing us much evidence of anything other than something to do about a boy and hanging out where students gather. While under investigation by the university for some unspecified infraction, he’s installed himself in a rented office, where he intends to prepare lectures but there is not indication that actually happens. In the office next door, Dr. Dora Schussler, psychotherapist, sees her patients. For most of the day she has a machine that creates white noise but one patient requests that the white noise is turned off allowing the narrator to hear every word. Thus his obsession begins.

He is taken with one patient: a young lesbian, also left nameless. It’s love at first listen, and not just because of the patient’s “creamy alto.” It’s her predicament. She is adopted and just beginning explore the secrets obscuring her origins. Our narrator comes from dreadful suicide-smitten stock — “My aunt Selma once said I had the temperament of Uncle Harry: Did this include whatever bad thing he had done with his gun?” — and this patient fills him with admiration. “Why,” he asks, “could I not learn the art of being parentless from these adoptees: these very models of self-creation?”

Assisted by the narrator’s discreet and creepy stage management, the patient’s inquiry will lead her to a group of Jewish orphans at Belsen in the last days of World War II. In Israel, the patient will also encounter something like a parallel self, an unsuspected sibling—also adopted—whose story of her own reunion with their mother casts light on the terrible meaning not just of why the patient was given up for adoption as a baby but why her mother never sought her out later on.

SECOND PERSON SINGULAR

SAYED KASHUA

“Second Person Singular” follows two main characters, one  “the lawyer,” the other Amir Lahab, a poor Arab from the occupied territories who moves to Jerusalem to study and become a social worker. The lawyer, too, is from a small village in the territories, and as their stories unfold, it becomes clear each is trying to leave not only class, but a large part of their Arabic heritage behind.

Amir lands a job as a caretaker for a comatose Jew about his own age, working the overnight hours in the young man’s house shared with his wealthy mother. Trouble begins when the lawyer buys some second hand books. The comatose young man’s name is inscribed in the book from which falls a note in the lawyer’s wife’s handwriting. “I waited for you, but you didn’t come,” the note says. “I hope everything’s all right. I wanted to thank you for last night. It was wonderful. Call me tomorrow?” This drives the lawyer completely insane with jealousy as he imagines his wife with another man.

Both the lawyer and Amir leave their villages in flights from their pasts, and as steps to different futures. The lawyer is ambitious , he works hard to become accepted among upper-class Arabs in Israel, and by Jews, as well. Though his rise as a criminal defense lawyer isn’t driven by a social conscience. He has constructed a persona, pursued his career simply because it buys him the social access and acceptance he so craves. A liberal in conversation with the self-important crowd with which he socializes (premarital sex is fine, gays should be treated as equals, women are victims across the Arab world), the small-town traditionalist within bubbles to the surface when he talks himself into being a cuckold.  Amir is driven by fear of returning to his village and his mother’s scandal-wracked past. He goes one step further than the lawyer in trying to create a new sense of self: He assumes another identity completely, begins to speak only Hebrew, and forges a career in Jerusalem as a Jew.

An unusual story coming out of Israel and Palestine. A good read.

JERUSALEM: Chronicles from the Holy City

GUY DELISLE

Jerusalem is a graphic memoir of Delisle’s living in Jerusalem with his wife who works with Médecins Sans Frontières. His two previous memoirs were also excellent: ShenzenPyongyang and Burma Chronicles. Delisle illustrates the mundane and the fascinating aspects of the places he chronicles with an incredible eye for detail. He begins with the flight to Israel, a jovial old Russian man on the plane to the city calms Delisle’s cranky child by hoisting her in the air. Delisle is surprised to see concentration-camp serial numbers tattooed along his forearm: “We’ve seen so many horrific images from that time in history,” Delisle remarks, “that my imagination just takes off. But I’m treated to a whole other picture tonight, as this old Russian plays with my daughter thousands of feet in the air.”

Jerusalem provides both an excellent introduction to the conflict in the Middle East and a fascinating close-up of what it’s like to live in the most sacred city in the world. The city of Hebron,is an example of the deeply rooted strife in Palestine. Delisle guides us through the Old City section of the West Bank community, where Israeli settlers live on one side of the street, and Palestinians on the other, between which famously documented hanging nets prevent them from throwing stones and refuse down onto passersby of the opposite religion.

Delisle is astounded at the desensitization of Jerusalemites to repression. Men go for jogs with assault rifles strapped to their backs, and whether or not one can visit certain neighbourhoods depends on a number of factors, including your ability to cite the proper religious prayers, your dress, the day of the week and which soldiers are on duty.

Jerusalem is a must read.