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Announcement :: Human Rights
Jamaica Plain - Writers for Justice in Palestine - Literary Celebration -Wed Nov 4
02 Nov 2015
When: Wednesday, November 4, 2015, 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Where: Hope Central Church • 85 Seaverns Ave • Jamaica Plain
Click on image for a larger version

Blue Between Sky and Water.jpg
The event will feature Susan Abulhawa (author, The Blue Between Sky and Water, September 2015), Ru Freeman (editor, Extraordinary Rendition: (American) Writers on Palestine, October 2015) and Michael Patrick MacDonald (author of All Souls: A Family Story From Southie).

In addition, Claire Messud, Fanny Howe, Askold Melnyczuk, Alice Rothchild and Aurora Levins Morales will read from their work on Israel/Palestine.

Tickets: $20 at the door; $18 advance (online) $10 student and low-income Cash or check only at the door

Reception with the authors 6-7 PM $125 (includes signed copies of The Blue Between Sky and Water and Extraordinary Rendion)

Tickets available online at

This event will benefit The Palestinian Festival of Literature (Pal Fest) and Jewish Voice for Peace Boston. For more information, visit

Book Review: The Blue Between Sky and Water

The 'blue' in Susan Abulhawa's The Blue Between Sky and Water is the space in which the main character Khaled–who is a voice, a face, with a mostly invisible presence but one whose birth is foretold long before he is conceived–lives. It's the place from where he watches events current as well as those that occur prior to his birth. Blue is also the colour of sky and the water of Beit Daras near Gaza, where the story kicks off.

The book takes you from life in Palestine before Israel began occupying it in the 1970s right up to the Gilad Shalit exchange in 2011, when over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners were released in return for one Israeli soldier. It so immerses you into the life of Khaled's huge, multi-generational family–belonging to the Baraka clan (originally from Egypt)–that you pick up bits of their language (even if you don't understand all the words), want to believe in djinns, feel the joy of budding love stories as well as the weariness and chaos that creeps in as the people of Beit Daras are forced to leave their homes and live as refugees in Gaza. Bombs find them even there.

With every bombing, many lives are lost and many kids turn into adults overnight. But you feel a deep sense of pride as people keep taking back ownership of their fate, working towards rebuilding their lives by building new houses, gardens, family legacies to pass on to kids, careers, trade (through underground tunnels) and more. All of this you see through the eyes of strong women and their role (along with their families') in restoring normalcy.

You experience these women's desires, laugh at their bold adult jokes and join the family celebrations with songs, dances and barbecues. You learn about their culture–after a son's birth, parents take his name as their last name. You realise how struggles create bonds and have an equalising effect that makes people forget the boundaries of class, how human beings continually adapt and survive with hope. You cherish their simple, hard lives that involve taking pleasure in small things, as life is lived largely at an essential level; the kind of joy that's tough to feel and find in our times of complex emotions developed by modernity and marked by capitalism-induced greed.

Interestingly, Abulhawa's writing style lacks the restrictiveness of the sometimes overly-economic prose that is another sign of our fast-paced times. Instead, it has a more eastern, poetic, leisurely storytelling quality with gripping effect. It shows you how Palestinian hands have sculpted the Middle East into its modern avatar through the life of one of its characters, Mamdouh, who goes to work in Kuwait and later moves to the US. His granddaughter Nur's experiences in the US are telling of how several of its systems, meant to protect citizens, often have the opposite effect and expose the need for case-to-case considerations.

Finally, it also voices questions of identity hovering from post colonial times and also resulting from rapidly-changing boundaries of countries over the course of history. An instance is this excerpt from a scene in the book set in Egypt:

"Arabs sure know how to make coffee," Nzinga said, flirting with the young waiter, who smiled good-naturedly and replied, "Arabs invented coffee, Madam."
...She scanned his dark skin and wooly hair. "Do you consider yourself Arab or African?".
"I am Egyptian, Madam."
"Is Egyptian African or Arab?"
"It is both, Madam. And as an Egyptian, I am proudly African and Arab. They are not mutually exclusive."
"Are you saying this because I am black?" She went back to flirting.
"Do you consider yourself black or African?" The waiter gave it back. "Isn't black a pigment category that white slavers invented to reduce the inhabitants and diverse cultures of our continent?"

The book is packed with so much reality and challenges so many concepts (including the notion of beauty) that by the end you're convinced that it's a book of non-fiction written in fiction form, only to escape the former's limitations. This comes as no surprise as the author herself belongs to parents who were refugees of the Six Day War of 1967.

This work is in the public domain
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