Stories from My Grandmother

Gazan nodancing arabsvelist Atef Abu Saif’s novel A Suspended Life, was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for 2015.The novel deals bravely with Hamas’s grip on Gaza.  Perhaps not appreciating this, Hamas delayed the author’s exit permit, preventing him from attending the the announcement of the shortlisted works in Casablanca, Morocco, in February.

Despite this,  Abu Saif cites the shortlisting of his latest novel as a reason for his new-found popularity:

Since the recognition from the prize committee, a new edition has been printed and distributed across the Arab world. “Before the Booker, no one knew me outside of Gaza and the West Bank,” he said. “Now I’m well known in the Arab world.”

Abu Saif is also gaining an audience outside the region, in part due to the wartime diary he wrote during the latest Gaza war, which reached wide audiences and touched many. The author has recently been selected as the winner of a new summer residency in London.

ArabLit shares selections of Abu Saif’s writings available online here.

In a recent AP article, Abu Saif relates how his grandmother, Aisheh, told him stories about her life in Jaffa “The best novelist in the world was my grandmother,” he said. “She was comparing her good life in Jaffa with the miserable life in the camp,” he said.

Another Palestinian author whose grandmother’s stories features strongly in his work is Sayed Kashua. In this article Kashua describes his grandmother’s stories as inspiring him:

I began to write, believing that all I had to do to change things would be to write the other side, to tell the stories that I heard from my grandmother. To write how my grandfather was killed in the battle over Tira in 1948, how my grandmother lost all of our land, how she raised my father while she supported them as a fruit picker paid by the Jews.

The grandmother is especially present in Kashua first novel Dancing Arabs (2004) recently made into a movie. Sadly the grandmother is not as present in the movie which, I agree with the Variety reviewer, is “another well-intentioned plea for coexistence” which feels  “rather too scrubbed and clean.” I missed exactly what the author discusses above, the impetus for his writing, wanting to record cultural memory, the stories from his grandmother.

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