Palestine Literature

Every year around this time,I read only books from one country. I have a couple of countries which have been in the queue for a couple of years but circumstances have caused them to be delayed. Two years ago it was our travel to Norway that turned me to that country. Last year it was Putin’s invasion that turned me to Ukraine. This year events in the Middle East have turned me to Palestine.

Palestine is a little trickier than other countries. Like many Arab countries, Palestine does not have a long traditon of producing novels. The focus had been on poetry, shorter pieces and an oral tradition of tale telling. Though Palestinian novels did appear before the Nakba in 1948, there were not all that many and even fewer translated. It is only after the Nakba that Palestinian novels started to appear but being a country under occupation made publication and distribution difficult. Those written in Arabic were generally published elsewhere, primarily in Lebanon. Some of the books read and reviewed here were written in exile and often in other languages, primarily in English, by refugees or by the children of refugees.
In his Survey of the Modern Literary Trends in Palestine and Jordan, Naser el Din al-Asad pointed our that “most of the literature that arose in Palestine focused on love poetry, historical and religious essays, educational textbooks and translations. Palestinian writers and intellectuals, like their Arab counterparts during
this period, launched projects of translation from English, French and Russian
literary traditions of the East and West”.

Khalil Beidas has been called the father of the Palestinian novel, not least because he introduced translations of English, French, German, Italian and Russian not only to Palestine but to the Arab world as a whole. He himsef published a variety of works, though only one novel : al-Warith (The Heir).

Iskandar al-Khoury was another early novelist influenced by the Russians with his novel Hayat baʿd al-mawt [Life After Death] published in 1920.

Najib Nassar may be best remembered for his giving warnings of the dangers of Zionism, along with his wife, but he published a novel Riwayat Miflih al-Ghassani, aw Safha min safhat al-Harb al-Alamiya al-Oula (The story of Miflah al-Ghassani or a chapter from World War I) in 1930.

Dhulm al-Walidayn (Injustice to Parents), written by Yohana Khalī Thikrat is another example but, unfortunately, no copies remain. None of these works has been translated. Isḥaq Musa al-Husayni, however, wrote (مذّكرات دجاج (Memoirs of a Hen ) which has been translated but translations are very hard to find.

In short the novel form was very limited in pre-Nakba Palestinian literature. Post-1948, there were further problems: how to get published, where to get published, distribution and for whom were Palestinians writing.There was also the issue of language. Most wrote in Arabic, of course but some of the Palestinians I shall be reviewing have gone into exile or are children of those in exile and write in the language of their country of exile, often but by no means always English. Occasionally Palestinian writers write in Hebrew.

Poetry and short fiction still prevailed but, as with the rest of the Arab world , the novel was being recognised as a valid form.

Undoubtedly, the best-known Palestinian writer was Mahmoud Darwish. He wrote mainly poetry (some of which is readily available in English). His prose was primarily non-fiction.

Moving on to post-Nakba Palestinian novelists, quite a few have not been translated, so there are relatively few available in English. Most of them are either already on my website or I shall be reading and reviewing them as part of this exercise. For the ones I have not got round to, including, short stories, memoirs and other non-fiction, see the various links on my Palestine page

The key Palestinian novelists

Afnan El Qasem(Qasim) was a professor at the Sorbonne so many of his works have been translated into French (and some written in French). None has made it into English. This link has a few other Palestinian writers available in French.

Two writers who write in Hebrew rather than Arabic have been translated into English. They are Atallah Mansour, whose autobiographical novel Waiting for the Dawn has been translated and, more famously, Anton Shammas, whose Arabesques has also been translated into English. There are also some Israeli-Arab writers who use Arabic for their literary work, but Hebrew for their non-fiction.

The main Palestine novelists(at least those available in English) are:

Ghassan Kanafani maybe best known for his death, murdered by Mossad with a car bomb. He published two novels and a variety of shorter works and left five incomplete novels. Both novels are already on my website.

Emile Habiby is known for his novel فاء سعيد أبي النحس (The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist), already on my website. It is an unusual satirical Palestinian novel.

Ghassan Zaqtan has written three excellent novels, all available in English, about loss and memory. Two are on my website and I shall be reading and reviewing the third.

I have yet to read Jabra Ibrahim Jabra who has had three books translated into English but shall be reading one of his works.

Sahar Khalifeh has had seven books translated into English. I have read one and will be reading another.

I think those may be the best Palestinian novelists, though others may disagree. However I must mention two woman writers: Susan Abulhawa, whom I shall be reading and Liana Badr, one of whose books I have read. I shall be reading another of her works.

You will find other Palestinian novelist on my website as well as many more I shall be reading in the coming weeks.

Bibliography

A Map of Absence An Anthology of Palestinian Writing on the Nakba
Edited by Atef Alshaer
European Cultural Diplomacy and Arab Christians Edited by KarèneSanchezSummerer·SaryZananir (contains ) the chapter The Making Stage of the Modern Palestinian Arabic Novel in the Experiences of the udabāʾ Khalīl Baydas (1874–1949) and Iskandar al-Khūri al-BeitJāli linked below)
in Palestine, 1918–1948
Anthology of Modern Palestinian Literature Edited and introduced by
Salma Khadra Jayyust
Ami Elad-Bouskila: Modern Palestinian Literature and Culture
Anna Ball: Palestinian Literature and Film in Postcolonial Feminist Perspective
Bashir Abu-Manneh: The Palestinian NoveFrom 1948 to the Present

Anthologies
Palestine +100: Stories from a century after the Nakba
Gaza Blues
Our Wounds Tell Who We Are: Short Stories from Palestine
Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home
Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine
The Book of Gaza: A City in Short Fiction

Links

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