I’m comin’ out of my cave (and I’m doin’ just fine) to write this review. I want to start by encouraging you to research the atrocities happening in the history of and current day Palestine. Please do your research and do what you can to help. Abulhawa’s author’s note starts off by reminding us that although Mornings in Jenin is a fictional work, Palestine is not. The violent Israeli invasion and occupation of Palestine has been happening for over 70 years, and although this novel discusses some of what’s happening, I implore you to engage with the information. Empathy should be inextricable from humanity, but it isn’t always; that being said, we try to ensure that where we can help, we try.
Author: Susan Abulhawa
Date Published: September 2006
Age Range: Adult
Genre: Historical literary fiction
Content warnings: Graphic violence, torture murder, rape, war crimes, explosions, ongoing colonialism and violent occupation
Summary: Forcibly removed from the ancient village of Ein Hod by the newly formed state of Israel in 1948, the Abulhejas are moved into the Jenin refugee camp. There, exiled from his beloved olive groves, the family patriarch languishes of a broken heart, his eldest son fathers a family and falls victim to an Israeli bullet, and his grandchildren struggle against tragedy toward freedom, peace, and home. This is the Palestinian story, told as never before, through four generations of a single family
Mornings in Jenin is the second Abulhawa novel I’ve read, and I had forgotten how much I love her writing. You have to remember: the last time I wrote to you was March??? I didn’t know when I was coming back, but while reading, all I could think was this is it. I don’t quite know how to explain it, but Abulhawa has the pure genius that pulled me out of the depths but also simultaneously pushed me further into them, to the extent that I needed to claw my way out, just to tell you about it.
Mornings in Jenin follows four generations of the Abulheja family and their neverending journey home. Though most of the story is told from Amal’s perspective, there’s a distinct sense of purpose in her reflection of the past, her present, and the future. Nothing is this book is “just because” or for the sake of mentioning it; everything has a reason. The significance is in their names, their relationships to one another. This book portrays people in some of their rawest moments of fear and shame and anger and love, and how although time passes, that doesn’t really change.
“In the process of trying to stead my gait in a life that shook with uncertainty, I learned to make peace with the present by unknowingly breaking love lines to the past.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Abulhawa has a way with words that makes me curl into myself every. single. time. The imagery alone is unparalleled – the moving pictures that come to my mind are vivid with warm greens and browns and yellows, and I imagine people with deep laugh lines and terror embedded in their faces. This world she describes makes me feel more human. I reveled in knowing that people loved, and hurt, and cried as deeply as they do in this book. Abulhawa writes with such visceral clarity that lit a fire of all fires within me; it warms, and burns, and suffocates, and it was enchanting.
English as a language often falls short when I need it the most (or maybe it’s just my brain). I say that because “enjoyable” is the word that comes to mind, but I don’t know if that’s what I mean. Some of the most enjoyable parts for me are when Amal talks about how the air feels when she sits on her father’s lap as he reads before sunrise; how the sun feels when she and Huda run and drag their hands along the brick; how the sun filters through the trees as she reads Hasan’s letters. I use enjoyable warily because these moments are written in the midst of such heartbreaking scenes. Still, Abulhawa makes it so that even these moments hurt purely because you want things to be this way much longer than they are.
After having written that last paragraph, and reading and editing it so many times, I think what I loved most about this book is how much it made me feel. For most people, desensitization is a natural occurrence when the world we live in seems so naturally hurtful. But Nana, that’s just the way things are. And you’d be right if you said something along those lines. But this book reminded me that I don’t think that’s the way things were meant to be. Or rather, I don’t want to think that. Call me an optimist, but I don’t wanna believe that we were made to hurt each other. More so, I don’t want anyone, myself included, to forget or become immune to thinking that it’s wrong.
“Because, for the hated and pursued, the reverse side of love is unbearable loss.”
I’m convinced that all of Abulhawa’s novel are love stories. And yes, of course the romantic love stories in this novel are pure and admirable in all their glory. But something I loved was the love that Amal has for her siblings, her best friend, her history. And above all, the love that each character in this book holds for Palestine. Love is not something you own, but something you feel. Not because you can’t have love, but because at its core, it belongs to everyone. If you haven’t read my review of Abulhawa’s Against the Loveless World, I highly recommend it, only because everything in that review stands for this one as well. Abulhawa’s strength in both these stories lies in her ability to discuss how love is a part of everything we feel.
While I would call Against the Loveless World a celebration of the capacity for love, I would say Mornings in Jenin celebrates the capacity for hope. You can’t have one without the other, and unfortunately hurt is part of that equation. Something about that I think resonates deeply with everyone, whether we know it or not; the hope that tomorrow will be better than today, if only a little. The hope that whatever survives after this hurt is worth it. Now keep that feeling, and try to imagine it in the face of fear and anger and desperation for survival.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t substitute the need for real education on these events, but it’s a start. Abulhawa brings up the tiny, nuanced feelings that otherwise get brushed over and lost in these huge numbers. While it’s important to know the statistics of it all, there’s also power in understanding the impact on a micro scale. I’m trying not to spoil, because so much of my love for this novel came from learning things as the characters did. But the journey Amal takes is as much about finding her way through Palestine, as it is about finding her way through herself and her family.
That being said…
There is so much more to say about this book that I’m not sure I could fit here, much less without spoiling anything. If you do end up reading Mornings in Jenin, feel free to find me somewhere and talk about it. I would also like to highlight Kate’s review, in which she discusses some of her favorite parts, and simultaneously made me feel less alone. If there are any other reviews out there that you’d like to share, PLEASE send them my way and I’d love to check them out.
If you’d like to read Mornings in Jenin, you can find it at the links below.
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Remember, all my love in an increasingly loveless world,