BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Palestine’s Children: Returning to Haifa and Other Stories by Ghassan Kanafani, translated by Barbara Harlow and Karen E. Riley

Palestine's ChildrenContrary as I am, I find I must start with this book backwards. The final entry in this important title by one of Palestine’s literary icons is not only the collection’s highlight, but it is undoubtedly one of those haunting ‘what-if’ situations that you’ll find difficult to let go. An indelible novella, Returning to Haifa combines two historical events in Palestine: May 14, 1948 when Israel declared statehood which led to the expulsion of some 200,000 Palestinians from their homes that very day, eventually growing to 700,000 who were made refugees by the end of the war that ensued; and 1967 when the borders between Israel and Gaza and the Left Bank were opened for the first time since 1948, allowing Palestinians to at least visit their former homes.

Almost 20 years since Said and Safiyya were driven out of Haifa, they now return and find Miriam, a widowed Jew, living in their home. When the Palestinian couple fled amidst violent confusion, they somehow left their infant son Khaldun behind. Returning to their Haifa home for the first time, Said and Safiyya hope for news of their lost son. Miriam has been waiting for almost two decades, dreading the future of her adopted son Dov … The Solomon-like confrontation between the two sets of parents and the one son that they share by blood and by nurture is a paralyzing situation that will chill every parent, any child.

Before reading the story, I first saw Return to Haifa (possibly a translation difference of the title?) on the stage at Theater J (one of the nation’s leading Jewish theaters) in a traveling Hebrew-language production originated by Israel’s Cameri Theatre. Talk about crossing boundaries on many, many levels! Both theater production and novella-on-the-page are startling experiences, both highly recommended.

Ghassan Kanafani was a national hero, a literary and political leader whose life was cut short by violence; his “booby-trapped car exploded,” killing 36-year-old Kanafani and his young niece in 1972. His tragic personal history is certainly as engrossing (and wrenching) as any of his fiction. With the exception of Haifa, the other stories in this collection – though possibly dampened in translation – provide an unflinching view of threatened, struggling lives on the other side of a troubled border. The Palestinian voice has too often been lost on the page, on shelves, in the media. This collection in English, complete with extended biography and historical context, provides necessary access towards illuminating the turmoil in a still-uncertain Middle East.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2000 (United States)


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