A family saga that draws attention to the Palestinian crisis.
If an alien were to read The Blue Between Sky and Water, he or she would describe it as a dystopian fantasy novel, a darker and grimmer version of The Hunger Games presuming that Israel was a place like ‘capitol’. He or she would think Gaza as ‘District twelve’ and ‘Arena’ rolled into one, where people had to participate in a game of life and death on a daily basis. The alien would surely criticise Susan Abulhawa for unrealistically exaggerating the miseries of the characters in her novel.
Like this imaginary alien, many (especially Americans) on this planet called Earth would react in a somewhat similar way. With no idea of what a Palestinian goes through on a daily basis, they are also not aware that unlike the fictional ‘District 12’ from The Hunger Games, Gaza is a real place and the historical events described in this book are factually correct. They are also not interested in knowing that even today the brutalisation of Palestinians continues unabated with the moral and financial support of the world’s most powerful nation.
In such a scenario, it becomes important that Palestinians tell their stories to the world, drawing attention to their miseries. And Susan Abulhawa is one Palestinian writer who did it with her bestselling debut novel Mornings in Jenin, and has now returned with her second novel, more disturbing and powerful.
In her first novel, the setting was West Bank but in this her attention shifts to Gaza. The story begins in Beit Daras, a village in the pre-1948 Palestine, when the Baraka family and many others are forced to flee their village by the Zionist militia. They take refuge in Gaza and from there the family scatters to the Middle East and America, taking their stories of misfortunes to different continents.
The novel has many strong women characters. Nazmiyeh and Nur are two of them. Nazmiyeh, the matriarch of the Baraka family and a witness to the history, has gone through the trial and tribulations of post–Naqba Palestinian life in Gaza. She is a strong-willed woman who tries her best to keep her family together. The other important character Nur, a Palestinian from her father side and Nazmiyeh’s grandniece, has been mostly raised in the foster care in the U.S. and has her own share of miseries which leaves her psyche scarred. Nur’s redemption happens only when she returns to her roots to be with her own people and to be a part of their daily struggle for justice and liberty. These two fascinating characters take you on a virtual journey through the present and past of Palestinians who lost their homeland to a bizarre political arrangement made by none other than the UN.
There is one more character, though not female, which is present throughout the novel. Khaled, the comatose boy and grandson of Nazmiyeh, is an invisible narrator whose voice keeps popping up time and again. Khaled’s interpretations of things happening around him are totally different and his tone of speech changes drastically as we progress through the novel. Khaled’s observations are innocent, insightful and at time full of sarcasm.
Structure wise, Susan has taken different routes this time and there are no continuous shifts of first person to third person narrative as she did in her first. Her prose moves smoothly like a sledge on an icy surface. The style has also changed a bit and this is more literary and less ornamental. She also uses elements of magic realism and paranormal to get inside the mind of her characters, while telling the complex stories of a family uprooted from the land of their forefathers.
The Blue Between Sky and Water; Susan Abulhawa, Bloomsbury Circus, Rs.499.