Thursday, July 21, 2011
Review: Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Where the Streets Had a Name
October 1, 2008
Borrowed from Library
Synopsis (from publisher): Thirteen-year-old Hayaat is on a mission. She believes a handful of soil from her grandmother's ancestral home in Jerusalem will save her beloved Sitti Zeynab's life. The only problem is the impenetrable wall that divides the West Bank, as well as the checkpoints, the curfews, and Hayaat's best friend Samy, who is always a troublemaker. But luck is on their side. Hayaat and Samy have a curfew-free day to travel to Jerusalem. However, while their journey is only a few kilometres long, it may take a lifetime to complete.
Review: This book gave me the chills many times as I read it. The middle of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict isn’t the obvious choice for a young adult setting, but through the eyes of her thirteen-year-old protagonist Hayaat, Abdel-Fattah brings a segment of Palestinian culture - the Muslims and Christians of Bethlehem - to life in a tragic, humorous and altogether engaging story.
The mission referred to in the synopsis is a major part of the book but more important is the depiction of Hayaat’s family as they deal with losing their land to a highway, the irregularly announced Israeli curfews and patrols, Sitti Zeynab’s (their grandmother) ill health and longing for her home in Jerusalem, and preparing for their daughter Jihan’s wedding.
All this is dealt with a sensitivity that’s almost heart-breaking. Each family member and outside friend - including the fantastic character of Hayaat’s friend Samy, a Christian boy whose father has been imprisoned by the Israelis for speaking out against the occupation - struggles with the difficulties of day-to-day living during an occupation while staying compassionate, joyful, and ready to carry on.
The nature of writing anything about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict means that politics are unavoidable, but Abdel-Fattah is not interested in black and white or an overly simplified story of victims and heroes. Instead she writes in the shades of grey of everyday human life, showing the non-violent on both sides as they struggle to peer through the blinds of fear and misunderstanding to see a common human face.