I had seen Mornings In Jenin on bookshelves and online for a while but it never really spoke to me (as much as covers of books can!) until someone I know recommended it so I decided to see if I could borrow a copy from my local library. Thankfully an audiobook was available so I downloaded it and once I stared to listen I was instantly in love.
Mornings in Jenin is a fictional story based on actual events. It starts in 1941, in Ein hod, Palestine, with Yehya Abu Husan and his wife picking fruit from their fig and olive trees getting ready for the harvest. From this idyl we begin to hear the early grumblings of conflict, of the British and their plans to rehome the Jews after the horrors of the Second World War. Much of these musings are the innocent conversations of two boys, Muslim Hasan and his Jewish best friend Ari, as they try to make sense of what they hear: “father has been saying for years this might happen, but it seemed so far fetched” says Hasan while Ari innocently and understandably tries to waylay his friends fears by saying that he is sure they will let the Palestinians stay, which understandably infuriates his best friend who wonders what right the immigrants have to dispel him from his land and why the Arabs have to pay for what the Europeans did? Later, once exiled from his land Yehya manages to sneak back to his old village, amazed at how he snuck past patrolling soldiers his family ask how he did it and he reminds them that he knows the land better than the occupiers and tells of the neglect to his beloved olive trees, “If they had a sense of the land, then the land would compel in them a love for the olives” The new French occupants didn’t have centuries of harvesting the land coursing through their blood as the exiled Palestinians. All of these beautiful exchanges are written poetically by Susan Abulhawa and leave a sadness lingering with the reader.
The story follows the family in the Refugee camp in Jenin that becomes their home, and we move from one generation to the next. As well as friendships, births and marriages we suffer the many real-life atrocities such as the six-day war, the Sabra and Shatila massacre and the Intifada. The majority of the story is told by Amal, the daughter of Hasan, as she navigates her life in the camp. Her mother, mourning the loss of a child who was snatched from her during their exodus, has become a shell of her former self and her father Hasan, whom she loves dearly is lost during the six day war. Yusuf, her only remaining sibling, joins the PLO. Education offers an opportunity and Amal leaves the camp in Jenin for life in America. Although her move offers her temporary respite from the cruel reality of life in the occupied territory, events in her homeland continue to impact her new life until she is once again drawn back to her homeland many years later.
Susan Abulhawa tells this story with incredible generosity, reminding us that “desperate acts are born of desperate situations” and we are encouraged to think about this as readers throughout the book. This is surprisingly the first book I’ve read that tells the story of Palestine, and I was struck by that because the partition of Pakistan and India was is 1947, (again thanks to the British!) a year earlier and there are many novels about that. I’m grateful to the author for being brave enough to write this story, because its not only a fantastic book, but it chronicles some of our recent history and the voices of people that have until now been lost. It is a rare treasure of a book and an incredible story I urge you all to read.