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The Woman from Tantoura

The Woman from Tantoura: A Novel of Palestine

Radwa Ashour
Translated by Kay Heikkinen
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    The Woman from Tantoura
    Book Description:

    Palestine. For most of us, the word brings to mind a series of confused images and disjointed associations—massacres, refugee camps, UN resolutions, settlements, terrorist attacks, war, occupation, checkered kuffiyehs and suicide bombers, a seemingly endless cycle of death and destruction. This novel does not shy away from such painful images, but it is first and foremost a powerful human story, following the life of a young girl from her days in the village of al-Tantoura in Palestine up to the dawn of the new century. We participate in events as they unfold, seeing them through the uneducated but sharply intelligent mind of Ruqayya, as she tries to make sense of all that has happened to her and her family. With her, we live her love of her land and of her people; we feel the repeated pain of loss, of diaspora, and of cross-generational misunderstanding; and above all, we come to know her indomitable human spirit. As we read we discover that we have become part of Ruqayya’s family, and her voice will remain with us long after we have closed the book.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-571-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Translator’s Acknowledgments
    (pp. [v]-[viii])
  3. 1 Cast Ashore
    (pp. 1-7)

    He came out of the sea. Yes, by God, he came out of the sea as if he were of it, and the waves cast him out. He didn’t come floating on the surface like a fish, he sprang out of it. I followed him as he walked toward the shore, his legs taut, pulling his feet from the sand and planting them in it, coming closer. He was bare, covered only by white pants held around his waist by a rope, drops of water shining on his face and shoulders. His hair was plastered on his head, chest, and...

  4. 2 The Night-Haunting Ghoul
    (pp. 8-14)

    I imagine my mother during those days. I recall what she said, and what she did not say. I hear her as she repeats to one of the neighbors what she has already said to my aunt: “I said to him, ‘You’re sending your daughter all the way to Haifa, Abu Sadiq!’ He said, ‘You’ll take the train.’ Good God, I’ll travel from one town to another to see my daughter? And what if she goes into labor in the middle of the night? What if she gets sick, God forbid? Besides, how will I take the train, and who...

  5. 3 Fickle February
    (pp. 15-22)

    In our town we call grass “spring,” because the spring is when the year turns and its season arrives, when it clothes the hills and the valleys. Classes and types and denominations of color, intense or coarse, deep or delicate, soft or light and vivid, all an unruly and unfettered green, and no one is sad. In its expanse grow the wildflowers, scattered wherever they please. But despite their red or yellow or gradations of purple, they can never be anything other than miniatures plunged in the sea of green.

    All alone the almond tree ruled over spring in the...

  6. 4 How?
    (pp. 23-29)

    My father, like the rest of the men of the village, listened to the radio in the madafa. I never saw this apparatus as I was not allowed into the madafa except as a little girl, and the radio had not yet arrived then. But I would hear my father saying to my mother, “I heard such-and-such on the Jerusalem broadcast, Cairo radio announced such-and-such.” Or he would comment on what my brothers told him, saying, “It’s strange that they didn’t announce that on the radio.” On their next visit after the episode of the slap, at my father’s request,...

  7. 5 My Uncle and My Father
    (pp. 30-34)

    My uncle announced that he was leaving. The house blazed.

    They were close, more devoted than was usual even in a village where brothers were close to each other, close in where they lived and worked and in how they managed their lives. When they married they contracted for their brides on the same day and held the wedding on the same night, my father taking Zeinab and my uncle, two years younger, taking her sister Halima. My mother would say, “They’re like two peas in a pod.” Neither would do anything unless the other did it too. Even when...

  8. 6 Saturday, May 15th
    (pp. 35-43)

    Fridays are all alike in being different from the rest of the week. We heat the water three times, for my father bathes first and then my brothers. They put on their long garments and go to the mosque for prayer. When they return my mother will have finished preparing a midday dinner different from the usual midday meal, “Because it’s Friday,” and because the boys, “Poor dears are far from home in Haifa, they’re bachelors who don’t eat enough to nourish them all week.” Even after Haifa fell and Sadiq and Hasan returned to live with us, my mother...

  9. 7 When They Occupied the Village
    (pp. 44-52)

    I didn’t hear the noises; I was sleeping. When my mother woke me up, I heard them and asked her about them. She said, “Wake up Wisal and Abed. Put out fodder for the livestock that will last two or three weeks, and a lot of water. Scatter seed for the chickens, a lot. And the horse, don’t forget the horse. Lift the oil cans off the ground so the moisture doesn’t get to them, and put a cushion between the wall and each can. Dress in three layers, and Wisal also, and the boy.” I asked, “Where are my...

  10. 8 A Boy and a Girl
    (pp. 53-58)

    When Ezz said to me, “Ruqayya, I want to talk to you,” I thought the way he said it was strange. I nearly made fun of him, I nearly said, “Do you want permission to talk to me, or an appointment?” But I didn’t. I waited for him to speak, and he said, “I’ll take you to the sea.”

    I walked beside him. When he left the village with his father and mother eight months earlier I was taller than he was, but he had become taller than I was. I remarked on it, and he laughed and said, “I...

  11. 9 The Children’s Indictment
    (pp. 59-65)

    The children say that I was a stern mother, they say their father was more affectionate with them. I repeat disapprovingly, “More affectionate?” They recall the events, and confirm what they say, “You got involved in every detail. You would insist that we be angels!”

    They laugh in chorus, and then Sadiq takes the floor, “Yes, the rank of angel was the minimum acceptable! One of us would bring you his report card and with good grades, or even with excellent grades, and your comment would be ‘But you’re not the best in the class, why aren’t you number one?...

  12. 10 The Leap . . . Does It Make a Tale?
    (pp. 66-76)

    Am I really telling the story of my life or am I leaping away? Can a person tell the story of his life, can he summon up all its details? It might be more like descending into a mine in the belly of the earth, a mine that must be dug first before anyone can go down into it. Is any individual, however strong or energetic, capable of digging a mine with their own two hands? It’s an arduous task requiring many hands and minds, many hoists, bulldozers, and pickaxes, lumber, and iron and elevators descending to the depths beneath...

  13. 11 A Young Man’s Laughter
    (pp. 77-82)

    Ezzedin announced, laughing, “Some people have all the luck! Mulukhiya soup and a job and a scholarship, all on the same day! Of course the mulukhiya is the most important. We’ve eaten the mulukhiya, and now I have to choose: the job or studying in the university? In fact, I have chosen.”

    Ezz loves mulukhiya and he loves it more when I make it for him. He turns the table into a carnival of laughter. He announces loudly, “Ruqayya’s mulukhiya can’t be beaten, she makes it better than my mother and my aunt and all the women of Sidon.” I...

  14. 12 Enter the Girl from Saffurya
    (pp. 83-89)

    My uncle looked at himself in the mirror one last time. He raised his hand to the cords of his headdress as if he were going to adjust it a little on his head, and then lowered his hand without touching it. Ezz laughed and commented on his father’s concern for his appearance, “They’ll think you are the groom, Abu Amin!”

    His father answered, smiling, “They should. I’ve never seen a groom like you going to propose like that, with no kufiyeh or cords, not even a jacket—a shirt and pants, as if you were one of the railway...

  15. 13 An Essay on Waiting
    (pp. 90-97)

    “He was standing in the station waiting to get on the train, returning to where he had come from, so how absurd it was to ask him to register his stop and to get an identity card for waiting.” I said that before, describing my uncle Abu Amin. I re-examine it. It’s not absurd for us to get an identity card to wait. And anyway, an identity card is always condensed, a summary of a long, complicated story, stretched out over time and not susceptible to a summary. It’s an insufficient shorthand, but it’s an indication.


    All of us...

  16. 14 Abed of Qisarya
    (pp. 98-104)

    He didn’t give me a chance to look at him. He didn’t allow me to stop and connect the little boy to whom I had bid farewell twenty-five years before in Deir al-Maskubiya in Hebron with the man who stood before me. He opened his arms wide and embraced me, to the surprise of the children and confusion of their father. He held me away a little to look at me. He said, laughing aloud, warmly, “Your eyes haven’t changed, and of course not the tattoo. I looked everywhere for you, I went to Sidon and to Ain al-Helwa, and...

  17. 15 Wisal
    (pp. 105-108)

    Abd al-Rahman held out his hand with the telephone receiver and said, “Talk!”

    I grasped the receiver and put it to my ear. I heard her voice and I knew it, even though I asked in confusion, “Wisal?” Then my voice was cut off. No, the telephone line wasn’t what was cut but rather my voice, as if I had returned to al-Furaydis and lost the power of speech. She filled the silence with words of welcome and with questions.

    Abd al-Rahman took the receiver from me and said to Wisal, “Ruqayya is crying. I didn’t know she loved you...

  18. 16 Beirut (I)
    (pp. 109-115)

    My aunt says that two-thirds of a boy comes from his maternal uncle, repeating the popular saying when she suddenly notices a gesture or a look or a tone of voice in one of the boys that reminds her of her sister’s two sons. She was right, Sadiq resembled Hasan, tall and broad like him. And Hasan resembled his uncle Sadiq, in the shape of his small body, the color of his eyes, his sweetness and calm. He seemed quiet and shy, compared to his big brother—traits he took from his uncle and from his father, since Amin was...

  19. 17 The Trees of Shatila
    (pp. 116-123)

    The bee is a good image. Yes, I became a bee. I would do the cooking and prepare breakfast. Amin and the boys would wake up, and I would feed them. They would go about their business. I would wash the dishes, straighten the house, and leave for Shatila, not returning until late afternoon. Every day had its schedule. There were literacy lessons for the adults, tutoring sessions for the elementary children. Statements to copy on the typewriter, when the young men brought them to me. And visits, no weekly schedule and sometimes no daily one was without them. Women...

  20. 18 Family Concerns
    (pp. 124-129)

    My aunt did not forgive the woman from Saffurya for two things. The first, as she said, was that “The girl from Saffurya wasn’t satisfied until she dragged your cousin to the camp, to her family.” She did not believe Ezz, who told her time and again that the move to Ain al-Helwa was his idea and that his wife had not suggested it, because the school where he taught was there, and because he had to stay in the camp until late at night because of his work with the young men, telling her that “Living in Ain al-Helwa...

  21. 19 1975
    (pp. 130-134)

    Amin and the boys were not able to come to Sidon the next weekend nor the following one. The roads were blocked between Beirut and Sidon. Automobile traffic stopped, and strikes, demonstrations, and fires spread through the streets of Beirut, Tripoli, Tyre, and other cities. In Sidon dozens fell in clashes between the civilians and the army. The battles continued for five days and stopped only after the withdrawal of the army from the city—a short truce that allowed the civilians to bury their martyrs, count their wounded, inspect the damage to their houses, and gather the information coming...

  22. 20 The Spring
    (pp. 135-139)

    I know my aunt maybe better than I know myself. As soon as she moved in with us in Beirut, I told her that I was exhausted from the housework. I suggested she take over the kitchen. She refused at first, and then accepted. I was sure that this was the first step to make her feel that she was in her home, and not a guest.

    Abed protested, “I don’t like Grandma’s cooking.”

    I chided him. He said, “Everyone has certain likes or dislikes, it comes from God.”

    Sadiq laughed loudly, “Abed has become a philosopher!”

    The boy went...

  23. 21 Amin’s Gift
    (pp. 140-144)

    I said that I was beset by panic, and that my imagination was running wild. No, it wasn’t my imagination but the earth that had gone wild, making everything wild and savage familiar. Was Ruqayya completely sane in those days? Before the boys wake, before “good morning” or boiling the coffee, she goes down to the street to buy the newspapers. She takes them home and reads the large headlines and the small ones and the details, the commentaries and the articles, the first page and the last and everything in between. Before “good morning,” she buys the newspapers and...

  24. 22 1982
    (pp. 145-148)

    War teaches you many things. The first is to strain your ears and be alert, so you can judge where the firing is coming from, as if your body had become one large ear with a compass to show the specific source of the threat among the four directions, or rather the five, since death can also rain down from the sky. The second is to resign yourself a little and to have only a certain amount of fear, the necessary amount only. If your fear exceeds the amount by a tiny bit, you will leave your house needlessly, when...

  25. 23 Flies
    (pp. 149-151)

    How did I bear it? How did we endure and live, how did a drink of water slip down our throats without choking and suffocating us? What’s the use of recalling what we endured and bringing it back in words? When someone we love dies, we place him in a shroud, wrapping him tenderly and digging deep in the earth. We weep; we know that we must bury him to go on with our lives. What sane person unearths the tombs of his loved ones? What logic is there in my running after the memory that has escaped, trying to...

  26. 24 The Girl from Nablus Enters the Family
    (pp. 152-156)

    I’ve made a leap that cut five years from the story. I’ll go back and pick up the thread: we’re still at the end of 1977.

    Sadiq called from Abu Dhabi, saying that he had met a girl he liked from the West Bank, and that he wanted to propose to her. His father said, “How will we propose to her for you when we can’t enter the West Bank?” He said, “I’ll arrange things. We can all meet in Amman.”

    Sadiq sent the bride’s picture and a long letter describing her, telling the story of his meeting her and...

  27. 25 Wisal (II)
    (pp. 157-161)

    I don’t usually pay that much attention to the clothes I wear, but when I was getting ready to visit Wisal, I changed my clothes three times. I put on one of my dresses, looked in the mirror and then decided to put on another one. I went back over my directions to Amin about Maryam, if she gets hungry do this, if she wets herself you’ll do that. He laughed and said, “Come on, don’t worry,” and then, “Go ahead, Hasan,” as he had decided to go with me.

    A taxi took us to al-Baqaa Camp; we looked for...

  28. 26 Where Are We, Maryam?
    (pp. 162-176)

    Hasan was the one who suggested that I write my story. I said, “I’m not a writer!”

    He said, “Tell the story, write what you have seen and lived and heard, and what you think about. If it’s hard to write, then tell it orally and record what you say, and afterward we’ll put it on paper. This is important, Mother, more important than you imagine.”

    I repeated, “I’m not a writer. Every craft has its craftsmen. I have never excelled in composition, even when I was a pupil in school. I was amazed by the ability of some of...

  29. 27 The Abu Yasir Shelter
    (pp. 177-182)

    In that first moment I didn’t recognize her. Then I knew her, even though I still stood stiffly, as if I first had to understand why she looked like that and what had brought her at this late hour of the night. She spoke first:

    “I’m Haniya.”

    More seconds while my mind ran in all directions. Had she been hit by shrapnel? Where? Why did she look like that? Had the Israelis raped her? Had her house been destroyed on top of her? Suddenly I wrapped my arms around her shoulders, and said, more loudly than usual or than was...

  30. 28 A Letter to Hasan
    (pp. 183-187)

    Why have you entangled me in this writing? What sense does it make for me to live through the details of the disaster twice? I stopped last week at the morning of Friday, September 17. The day was before me: I had to face it again, to retrieve it from a memory that struggles with me as I struggle with it, as if we were wrestling in a ring. The simile is not exact, Hasan, for it’s not a game and in the end there is no victor or vanquished, no audience applauding in admiration for the victory. It’s not...

  31. 29 Abed’s Testimony
    (pp. 188-194)

    Abed spoke, saying:

    “When the agreement was reached for the withdrawal of the resistance from Lebanon, they left the choice up to the young men who carried Lebanese travel documents, because they were from families who had arrived as refugees in 1948. They said, ‘You can stay if you like or go with the resistance fighters.’ I was angry over the agreements that Abu Ammar had accepted, and I was not alone. We felt that they were agreements that stripped us bare and accepted a defeat for which we weren’t responsible. His leaders fled from the south. The thugs fled,...

  32. 30 The Report
    (pp. 195-201)

    This is the picture I have been able to put together, piece by piece, of what happened in Acre Hospital on Friday, the seventeenth of September.

    Beginning at five in the morning on Friday, calls were heard over loudspeakers, coming from the Israelis that were surrounding the camps: “Surrender and you’ll be safe. Everyone must return to their houses and put any weapons they have in front of the houses. Surrender and you’ll be safe.” The calls caused turmoil among the residents, and hundreds of them had sought refuge in the hospital for protection the previous night. Some thought that...

  33. 31 To Cut a Path
    (pp. 202-207)

    Abed did not show me this letter when he wrote it, nor when he gave a copy of it to Sitt Bayan. I read it, and was brought up short by the date. Nearly twenty years later I understood Abed’s strange behavior on the day his grandmother died.

    She died on December 16, 1982 and we buried her the next day, the same date as the one Abed had placed on his letter to Sadiq and Hasan.

    I found her motionless in her bed. I ran to Abed. For two days he had not left his room, sitting at his...

  34. 32 The Center (1)
    (pp. 208-213)

    I said to the elder Abed, “Your wife visited me yesterday.”

    He said, “She came to complain to you about me, didn’t she, to tell you that I hit her?”

    “She didn’t say that.”

    He looked me in the eyes, disbelieving. I had not lied. His wife had talked to me a long time about his state and complained to me, but she had not said that he had hit her.

    He said, “I can’t stand myself. I can’t even stand our little boy. I don’t know what to do. I leave the house in the morning as if I’m...

  35. 33 Abed’s Detention
    (pp. 214-218)

    Abed didn’t come home for three nights. I was somewhat concerned; I thought he’s with his colleagues here or there. A momentary anxiety assails me: what if he’s infiltrated the south? He has infiltrated before, and I didn’t know about it until after he returned. I chase away the anxiety; there’s nothing new in his being away from home for a night or two. On the fifth day the anxiety grips me; it’s no longer anxiety but certainty, something bad has happened to him. Has he been kidnapped? Have they killed him at one of the barriers? I jump out...

  36. 34 To the Gulf
    (pp. 219-224)

    Suddenly, I accepted. As if I had not spent four years in evasions, alleging real or fabricated reasons for staying.

    The airline tickets and passports are in my purse, and the suitcases are in the back of the taxi taking Maryam and me to the airport. I know the airport, the arrival and departure halls, and the walls, but I don’t know what’s behind them; I have never taken a plane before in my life. I have never extended my hand holding a passport to the officer, as the actors do in films, so that he will stamp it and...

  37. 35 Sumana
    (pp. 225-229)

    How did my friendship with Sumana begin? And why did I befriend her, while I remained distant from Evelyn? Was it because Evelyn often used the word “Madam,” which embarrassed me? Or was it because she spoke English well and fluently, while I stumbled over my words, aware of my broken English? She reminded me of an Asian doctor who worked in Gaza Hospital, whom Amin invited to dinner one night with the other foreign doctors. That night also I spoke in the briefest possible terms. What would I say to these doctors? I confined myself to a welcoming smile,...

  38. 36 A Lesson
    (pp. 230-233)

    I said to Maryam, “I want to talk to you. Don’t go to the club with Sadiq and his children tomorrow morning; we’ll sit and talk.”

    “Is it a punishment?”

    “Not a punishment, but a talk that will take time.”

    “Why on Friday morning? Let’s talk now, or Friday evening.

    “I want you on Friday morning.”

    “Mama, the talk won’t go away. I wait for Friday all week, so I can go to the club and meet my friends.”

    I ended the discussion firmly: “No club this week.”

    She left me, grumbling in protest, but she obeyed.

    I was amazed...

  39. 37 Abu Muhammad
    (pp. 234-238)

    It was chance, pure chance, that brought us together.

    Sadiq took me to a large shopping mall to buy some things for Maryam. He said that he would come to take us home two hours later, and told us about a coffee shop on the second floor where we could sit to rest, or to wait for him if we finished shopping before he came back.

    I finished buying what Maryam needed in less than half an hour; we went down to the second floor and headed for the coffee shop. As soon as we went in I noticed him....

  40. 38 The Prisoner’s Tale
    (pp. 239-244)

    Abu Muhammad told me his story.

    “I was among the forty they stood against the wall. I no longer remember if I had resigned myself to death and pronounced the shahada, or if I was still clinging to God’s power over everything, to his ability to change one state into another, in the blink of an eye. I only remember that we were standing, raising our hands as we had been ordered, our faces to the wall, barely seeing what was going on behind our backs: the rifles leveled at us, the contempt on their faces and the look of...

  41. 39 Wedding
    (pp. 245-254)

    My imagination could never have reached Piraeus, however much it circled or took wing, or stumbled and lost its way. How could it ever get there without any prior knowledge of it, or its location, or even its name?

    As usual, Sadiq began by objecting. He said, “How can you, Brother? Are you going to spend your whole life in Canada? If you marry her she won’t be able to live with you in Lebanon or in the Gulf or in any Arab country, except maybe Egypt. And in Egypt they won’t give you residency or a work permit, and...

  42. 40 The Battle of the Dress, or What Do You Want Me to Say?
    (pp. 255-258)

    We were walking on the beach, and a man of medium height was following us, looking toward us and smiling. The man went up to Samir and spoke to him, then said goodbye and left. Wisal stopped and asked, “What does he want? He keeps staring at us, and at me in particular.”

    Samir said, “He spoke to me in English and asked, ‘Are you from Israel?’ I wondered at the question, and he pointed to your dress, and smiled, and said, ‘I knew from the dress.’”

    “What did you say?”

    “I didn’t say anything, I let him go.”


  43. 41 Surprising Maryam
    (pp. 259-263)

    Naji al-Ali said in a newspaper interview that he created the character of Hanzala to protect his spirit after he moved from the Ain al-Helwa camp to Kuwait to work in the press there. I read the interview when it was published in the paper on the anniversary of his martyrdom, reading it with interest because I loved Naji al-Ali’s drawings and had followed them in theSafirnewspaper when I was in Beirut, especially during the days of the Israeli invasion. I was also interested because Naji was from Ain al-Helwa and was a friend of Ezz, and my...

  44. 42 The Son of al-Shajara
    (pp. 264-267)

    On July 22, 1987, someone shot the Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali, using a pistol equipped with a silencer. The shooting occurred in London and resulted in the death of Naji al-Ali five weeks later. The fifth anniversary of the event fell during the vacation this last summer, and some newspapers called attention to it. I did not learn the date of the anniversary from the newspaper, however, because I remembered it, and I don’t believe that I could ever forget it in the future.

    In July of 1987, which was the first summer after we moved from Lebanon to live...

  45. 43 Another Time
    (pp. 268-270)

    Sadiq said to me, “I’ve been cherishing the hope that Maryam would major in architecture and work with me here, in the company. The girl is smart and hard working, and she will be important in her field. I’ll send her to study at the American University of Beirut, as soon as she gets her high school diploma.”

    He called Maryam, and said, “Then you intend to enroll in the College of the Humanities?”

    She looked at him in surprise, and said, “‘Then’ referring to what?”

    He laughed, “Referring to the subject of the beautiful composition you wrote.”

    She said,...

  46. 44 The Project
    (pp. 271-275)

    On our way to the airport to meet Abed, Sadiq said, as he was driving, “I bet Abed intends to get married.”

    I said, “Has he hinted at that?”

    He said, “He hasn’t hinted, but I haven’t seen him for three years. Every time I travel to Europe I get in touch with him so we can meet, and he says he’s busy. Last year I urged him to come to spend the vacation with us in Austria, and he said he was busy. I said, at least come to see your mother and your sister, have some consideration for...

  47. 45 By the Law
    (pp. 276-282)

    How can I describe the scene? I’m trying to recall it, yet I know it’s hard to describe—not because memory drops some things and adds others, or highlights some and pushes others into the background, but because what happened went beyond the words that were spoken. I write what was said in order to tell what happened, well aware that what I am describing is closer to a dream of something than it is to the thing itself. It’s as if it were a well of which we can see only the small amount that the bucket has scooped...

  48. 46 The Chain
    (pp. 283-285)

    I burst out laughing, and I laughed so much I had to hold my sides. I said, “You’re incredible, Abed!” We were sipping coffee, about to leave for the airport to see him off.

    Sadiq said, “Be sure you have your passport and your plane ticket. Be sure you didn’t leave your wallet or any of your cards. Be sure . . .”

    Maryam laughed. “Sadiq, why do you insist on treating us as if we were kids?”

    Saying goodbye is hard. I think that I’ve gotten used to it, and then when the time comes, I discover that that’s...

  49. 47 The Research Center (II)
    (pp. 286-295)

    Sadiq called Sumana and gave her the letters he had brought her from the post office box. Then he opened a brown envelope and took out some journals, saying, “Hasan sent them to me by mail. He has an article in them. He sent a copy for me and a copy for you and one for Maryam.”

    He handed me the journal, after opening it to the beginning of the article. I saw the title with Hasan’s name under it. I paged through it; it was a long article.

    It’s strange. I read everything Hasan writes, even if I don’t...

  50. 48 The Girls’ Lathe
    (pp. 296-302)

    Yes, “She’s been turned on the girls’ lathe.” Where did I get that expression? I heard it from my Uncle Abu Jamil’s wife; it floated away, as forgotten things will, only for us to discover suddenly that they have been preserved, unaffected by being hidden away in some nook or cranny. Did Umm Jamil repeat the expression from time to time, or did she say it once, on noticing that I had become a young woman? I see Maryam growing day after day; the spring is doing its work, I know. And yet I notice suddenly, as if I did...

  51. 49 Beirut (III)
    (pp. 303-308)

    “Birds of a feather flock together.” The proverb came to me between waking and sleep, as I was preoccupied with the thought of going to a city we didn’t know, where we didn’t know anyone. Why not go back to Lebanon and live in Beirut, or return to Sidon and live like the rest of our people there, come what may? Sadiq said that the situation of the Palestinians in Lebanon was getting more difficult by the day. He said that a friend of his visited Beirut recently and met a young man who suddenly lifted his eyes and whispered,...

  52. 50 Egypt, Where . . .
    (pp. 309-312)

    We left Abu Dhabi for Cairo the first week of September, 1993. No sooner had we stowed the bags and the plane taken off than I closed my eyes. I was on my way to Egypt for the first time in my life; Egypt, where my mother said that Sadiq and Hasan had gone. She lived and died repeating that and believing it. As soon as Cairo appeared at a distance of a three-hour flight, my mother came to me, she possessed me, her deranged mind stuck to mine. Sadiq and Hasan are over there, in the earth of Tantoura,...

  53. 51 Household Gardens
    (pp. 313-318)

    How do the years pass, how did they pass? In a flash or slowly, like a camel crossing a desert that stretches endlessly toward the horizon, before you, behind you, and on the left and right? What brings the desert to mind when I’m in Alexandria, living on a street where the buildings crowd together, and each one has several floors, with apartments and residents? The pedestrians and the cars in the street move in three lanes, one for the cars heading east, another for the opposite direction, and between the two, tramlines. I hear the friction of their wheels...

  54. 52 New Jersey
    (pp. 319-323)

    Hasan called me and told me that he was sending me two copies of his new book, “one for you and the other for Maryam.”

    A moment of silence, and then: “It’s not a study or a research work, Mother. It’s a novel.”

    “A story?”

    “Yes, a story.”

    I was amazed, and even more amazed when the book arrived. Unlike his previous books, it was small in format and size, ninety pages at most. He said that it was about the attack on Lebanon. How? Is it possible to tell what happened in these few pages? How could a small...

  55. 53 The Visit
    (pp. 324-327)

    Maryam said, “You’re being ridiculous, Mother! You have money!”

    I said, “What I have is sent by Sadiq for your school fees and our living expenses. I won’t invite my friend to come at Sadiq’s expense.”

    She laughed, “The bracelet you sold was bought by Sadiq; it’s his money in both cases!”

    I nearly said that he gave me the bracelet, so it had become mine, to do with it or its value as I pleased, but I did not speak. I called Wisal again to set the date for her trip. She said, “We’ll harvest the olives and press...

  56. 54 By Donkey
    (pp. 328-334)

    A passing story, one of thousands of little anecdotes that pass by every day, only to fall into the crowd. Suddenly it surfaced; I recalled it, and then I ruminated on it, saying why not? The man was over a hundred and I haven’t even reached seventy. The story gave me ideas; I would have liked to hear it again from Karima, in case she could add other details that had escaped her.

    It was the story of her father’s uncle, Abu Khalil. He left for Lebanon with them, and stopped like them in Rumaysh. He went back across the...

  57. 55 The Return to Lebanon
    (pp. 335-339)

    Maryam is talking about the trip, she’s burning to join Abed in France. She’s arranged all the details with him: she’ll be an intern during the first year and then start her specialty training. I do not comment. She thinks I’m worried because I want her to get married; she’s twenty-two, when will she marry? Abed is thirty-five; will she be like him? I put my concern into words, but I do not speak about the other topic, not about where to go from here. Abu Dhabi? I don’t want that. Maryam says, ‘Come with me.’ Abed also says to...

  58. 56 The Gate
    (pp. 340-343)

    “God bless you, as long as you were going to accept my move to Sidon anyway, why did we spend all these months arguing?” I was talking about Sadiq’s determination to rent an apartment in Sidon. He asks and inquires and inspects and compares: an apartment on the fourth floor with a balcony overlooking the sea and big windows open to the sky and the sunlight? “It’s great! What do you think, Sadiq?” “How will it hold us all when we come in the summer?” Another, bigger apartment, five rooms. “It’s far from the sea, and the building is old.”...

  59. 57 Light and Shadow
    (pp. 344-352)

    The doorbell woke me. I looked at my watch, it was one a.m. Who can be knocking on the door at this hour? I open, and I scream—Abed and Maryam are standing before me! Abed laughs and Maryam says, “The jack-in-the-box only pops up in the middle of the night!” After hugs and laughter and flying half sentences and a quick tour of the house, “because we want to get to know our new home,” we move to the kitchen.

    “I’ll make supper for you.”

    “We ate on the plane.”

    “We want coffee.”

    Maryam insists that she make the...

  60. 58 Across Barbed Wire
    (pp. 353-362)

    I called Maryam and the boys. “The day after tomorrow,” I said, “I’m going with Karima’s sisters,” I said. Abed and Maryam said, “You’re lucky. I wish we had known about that possibility when we were in Sidon.” Sadiq said, “If you had told me two days ago, I would have made arrangements and gone with you.” Hasan asked, “Where exactly? At what location, at what time?”

    At six in the morning on the appointed day, I was in Ain al-Helwa. I knocked on Karima’s family’s door, I drank coffee with them, and then we went to the collection point....

  61. Notes on the Text
    (pp. 363-364)
  62. Glossary
    (pp. 365-368)