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My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness

My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet's Life in the Palestinian Century

Adina Hoffman
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 464
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  • Book Info
    My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness
    Book Description:

    Beautifully written, and composed with a novelist's eye for detail, this book tells the story of an exceptional man and the culture from which he emerged.

    Taha Muhammad Ali was born in 1931 in the Galilee village of Saffuriyya and was forced to flee during the war in 1948. He traveled on foot to Lebanon and returned a year later to find his village destroyed. An autodidact, he has since run a souvenir shop in Nazareth, at the same time evolving into what National Book Critics Circle Award-winner Eliot Weinberger has dubbed "perhaps the most accessible and delightful poet alive today."

    As it places Muhammad Ali's life in the context of the lives of his predecessors and peers,My Happinessoffers a sweeping depiction of a charged and fateful epoch. It is a work that Arabic scholar Michael Sells describes as "among the five 'must read' books on the Israel-Palestine tragedy." In an era when talk of the "Clash of Civilizations" dominates, this biography offers something else entirely: a view of the people and culture of the Middle East that is rich, nuanced, and, above all else, deeply human.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15580-8
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. PRELUDE: Bir el-Amir
    (pp. 1-10)

    The house is dark in the february damp, but when she opens the door to let me in, Imm Nizar is laughing. It seems to tickle her that I got lost on my way to the home she almost never leaves, and that—after driving in confused loops around a dingy Nazareth neighborhood where teenagers tinker with half-stripped cars and packs of chickens scuttle—I gave up, pulled to the side, and called to ask for help.

    In fact, Imm Nizar appears to be giggling or at least grinning much of the time, the still-girlish planes of her grandmotherly face...

    (pp. 11-64)

    With a title as haunted and haunting as its subject matter,All That Remainsis a monumental reference book, in which the distinguished historian Walid Khalidi and a team of researchers set out to chronicle the 418 Palestinian villages that Israel effectively erased in 1948. A painstakingly compiled document that is all the more moving for its matter-of-factness, the book offers photographs and brief, businesslike descriptions of each of these villages—before ’48, during the war, and today—and in doing so it attempts to preserve on paper what has disappeared from the earth: “Now and then a few crumbled...

    (pp. 65-134)

    “I went barefoot the first ten years of my life,” says Khalid, the village boy at the center of Taha’s remarkable 1996 short story “So What.” A small but somehow tremendous tale (the late great American essayist Guy Davenport wrote that it seemed to him a cross between Kafka and Hans Christian Andersen), it recounts the agony and wonder of Khalid’s first decade of barefootedness and the corresponding excitement and mortification that attend the purchase of his first pair of shoes. His parents have no money to pay for such things, and by the time they have scrounged the necessary...

    (pp. 135-170)

    They walked for two days and much of two nights, and under the fig trees of Bint Jbeyl, the people at last came to rest. The harsh July sun had followed them across the border, and thousands of children and women and babies and men sat in exhausted groups, the “lucky” ones finding space beneath the only semblance of a roof in sight—the wide pointed leaves of the trees. Infants bawled, old women whimpered, mules brayed, truck brakes screeched, and those who found refuge in these foreign orchards and fields were surrounded on all sides by a constant, anguished...

  7. REINA
    (pp. 171-186)

    In ermesh they bought a donkey anddibbis, the thick fruit molasses that is eaten with bread. (Saffuriyya dibbis was made of grapes or dates, but this foreign-tasting Lebanese batch came from the pulp of carob.) Imm Taha baked a pile of flat loaves over the fire, then they filled bottles with water and quietly prepared themselves to cross over to Palestine—or, as they would need to get used to calling it, Israel. From the way the brothers describe that day now, it seems no one talked about what lay ahead. The donkey was meant to carry Abu Taha,...

    (pp. 187-294)

    Pastoral, unsullied nazareth—the glowing little village of pilgrims’ picture postcards—may always have been something of a fantasy. So, too, the immaculately peaceful place conjured by certain biblically minded nineteenth-century Western chroniclers: “untainted harmony” ruled there according to one European traveler who paid Jesus’ hometown an extended visit in 1846. Yet however sanitized such depictions-for-export may have been, up to the end of the British Mandate, the smallish city, or overgrown hamlet, had somehow managed to maintain its rural aspect and essentially tranquil mien.

    Even as, throughout the Mandate, building had spread well beyond the warren of low stone...

    (pp. 295-405)

    And where, in the end (or in the beginning), did Taha’s first poem come from?

    In attempting to unravel this mystery, one can try on oedipal explanations and say that the death of Taha’s father somehow freed him from the weight of filial responsibility and allowed him to venture into the risky and basically impractical realm of verse.

    Or one could turn that answer on its head and speculate that Abu Taha’s stirring deathbed declaration was precisely what propelled Taha to stretch toward his highest hopes for himself: poetry had always been part of his consciousness, and his earliest memories...

  10. List of Illustrations
    (pp. 406-408)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 409-442)
    (pp. 443-446)
  13. Index
    (pp. 447-454)