Thank you to NetGalley for the e-ARC. All opinions expressed are my own.
Title: Against the Loveless World
Author: Susan Abulhawa
Publication Date: August 25, 2020
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age Range: NA – Adult
Content Warning: sexual violence and rape, war/violence, miscarriage/abortion, death
Synopsis: As Nahr sits, locked away in solitary confinement, she spends her days reflecting on the dramatic events that landed her in prison in a country she barely knows. Born in Kuwait in the 70s to Palestinian refugees, she dreamed of falling in love with the perfect man, raising children, and possibly opening her own beauty salon. Instead, the man she thinks she loves jilts her after a brief marriage, her family teeters on the brink of poverty, she’s forced to prostitute herself, and the US invasion of Iraq makes her a refugee, as her parents had been. After trekking through another temporary home in Jordan, she lands in Palestine, where she finally makes a home, falls in love, and her destiny unfolds under Israeli occupation. Nahr’s subversive humor and moral ambiguity will resonate with fans of My Sister, The Serial Killer, and her dark, contemporary struggle places her as the perfect sister to Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties.
I wanted to leave and love and live something else.
This book was beautiful and haunting and raw, all at the same time. I could stop there, and I could write a whole essay on it, and there still wouldn’t be enough words, much less accurate ones that quite sum up what Against the Loveless World made me feel. The writing itself can make you hate the world, and fall in love with it, all in the same breath. Telling the story of Nahr as she relives her life through memories, Susan Abulhawa has easily become one of my favorites and I can’t wait to read her other stories.
Nahr goes back and forth from life in what she calls The Cube, and the many different lives of Nahr before The Cube. Following the history of Israeli occupation of Palestine, Nahr’s life is a combination of both individual and collective resistance against the multiple oppressive parties in her life; Israel and its military, the patriarchy, and colonialism being the main few. On the larger scale, I love this novel because of its storytelling and overall shock that came with the experience of reading it. From someone who will never quite understand this particular experience, and understanding that reading about it will never suffice, discomfort is a very small price to pay. Horrible people are everywhere. This is for the people who don’t read books they can’t relate to – you do not have to relate to it to understand and become a better person. I think reading this absolutely heightened my sense of empathy and the greater need for it, and for that reason, I highly recommend for the writing itself; Abulhawa’s genius lies in creating a world that resonates with a select few, but is still able to permeate the worlds around it because she understands the significance of interconnection.
Along with the larger, overall experience of the book, I was deeply taken by Nahr herself. Nahr refuses to be a victim of a world that tries to paint her otherwise. Between older Nahr in The Cube and the young Nahr from lifetimes ago, she is funny and clever and honest and I couldn’t help but love her. While her story follows the events that got her to The Cube in the first place, we also meet the people that added to her journey, both the good and the bad, and it becomes crystal clear that Nahr knows that life involves both, as well as the in between. She develops a complicated relationship with sex and intimacy, with dance and the country that her mom and grandma call home, and with the people who have played their parts in a system that hurt her. And with her wit and sharp tongue, Nahr bares it all. Israeli-occupied Palestine is a cruel place for her, even when she’s not physically in Palestine, and from what it sounds like at the end, I’d say that Nahr embraces it all. There’s something extremely contagious about the passion with which Nahr and her peers speak about the world; it’s not just about the big things, but little resistances, little victories, and little joys, too, no matter how they turn out.
When I first started reading, I didn’t know what I would call it. I was leaning towards calling it an historical fiction/nonfiction-inspired, but now as I’m looking back and writing this review, it becomes a love story, though a very twisted, cruel one at times. As the title suggests, Nahr is literally fighting against a loveless world, and as much as she has every right to recount only the loveless moments in her life, she doesn’t. She also tells stories of hope and the tiny slivers of love she does find – in her country, in her family, in her people, and the pain and complication that has always followed. Nahr understands what it means to love her country and its people, as well as to love others individually (including herself). Against the Loveless World is stunning. I’m not confident that this review does it justice at all, but I hope to read it again soon and further develop some of my own thoughts that I haven’t been able to phrase for you here.
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With all the love I can muster in an occasionally loveless world,