Mornings in Jenin
There is no way I can do justice to this book, so I’m keeping it short.
Mornings in Jenin describes the story of one family throughout four generations. The novel begins in the 1940s and finishes in the early 2000s, which was when it was first published. Forced to leave their village of Ein Hod in 1948, the Abulheja family moves into a refugee camp in Jenin and struggles to rebuild their world. There is so much that happens in this book and none of which I wish to spoil for anyone who hasn’t read Mornings in Jenin yet, but some of the overriding themes include war, loss, migration and family ties. While the book is fictitious, Abulhawa admits that some elements of each character are based on real people she knew and the plot on true historical events that have taken place during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It feels wrong to say that I enjoyed this book, but I did find it incredibly beautiful and moving. I especially loved the way Abulhawa writes about finding small joys amongst the brutality of an unjust world - first loves, friends reuniting after years spent apart, and the interconnectedness of generations of people bonded by ancestry and longstanding social upheaval - to name but a few.
When war strikes, we tend to see conflicts as comprising two sides: militaristic, detached, and completely without nuance. But here we meet the ordinary people caught in the crossfire. People whose everyday lives have been torn apart by violence and oppression, leaving everything they know behind in search of safety and a new home to put down firm roots. This book is only 325 pages and while it is a very readable book, I took absolutely ages to read it. I think this is partly because of how vast a time period it covers, I spent 60 years getting to know this family and I definitely did not feel ready to leave them when the book ended.
I’ve been recommended this book countless times by different people with polar opposite tastes in books, so I fully expected to love it. However, I wanted to be entirely committed to this book (in terms of being emotionally ready and having the mental space to digest it all) and I’m glad I waited for the right moment, but I’m also grateful for those who insisted it wasn’t one to miss. I feel devastated, but definitely richer, for having read Mornings in Jenin. Now I’m off to read everything else Susan Abulhawa has written.