I spent most of my day yesterday with this book in my hands, only reluctantly putting it down to eat and go shopping, the latter I delayed and protested until my hungry children and their cries forced me to take action (I’m only half kidding!) I love that feeling of being so absorbed in a book that even sleeping, my ultimate activity, takes a backseat.
I only recently finished reading ‘Mornings in Jenin’ by Susan Abulhawa, and had very high expectations for this, ‘Against The Loveless World’ her latest offering, thankfully I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I think I might have enjoyed it just a little bit more. It is the story of Nahr, a Palestinian refugee and prisoner, telling the tale of her life from The Cube, nine square metres of cinderblock, devoid of time. Nahr is fierce and brilliant, she’s independent, loyal and stubborn. She’s my favourite kind of protagonist, flawed and unapologetic, living her life and learning lessons the hard way due to the circumstances she finds herself in.
What I really enjoyed reading in this book were the relationships between the women. From mother daughter relationships, to mother in-law, best friends, sisters, to school friends and acquaintances, these were all so well constructed and ultimately beautiful and supportive. It’s not often that women are celebrated in this way, and although the relationships were complicated there was kindness and generosity in each of the characters towards one another. I loved learning about the family dynamics within the Arab culture, which is very similar to that of the South Asian culture, but different enough to keep me interested, especially the roles of women within the home.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve not read many books set in the Arab world, and in this story, we travel between Kuwait, Jorden and Palestine. Like with most countries in the world, neighbours often have strained relationships seeped in centuries of history, and these borders are no exception. I found the attitudes of the host country towards their refugee guests fascinating, particularly as I thought the struggles and the forced exile of the Palestinians would have resulted in more sympathy from their Muslim neighbours, but I suppose economics and capitalist politics leave little regard for humanitarian causes.
I read this book after reading a nonfiction book about the experience of Kashmiri women and girls also living under the oppression of occupation, and I was struck at how similar the lives of the women were. Susan Abulhawa acknowledges at the end of the book the research she conducted to craft this story, based on both personal experience and on the lives of people she is not at liberty to disclose. I was struck by the sacrifices women, particularly those in conflict areas, must make and how they utilise the resources they have. How men are often glorified for their actions as resistance/ freedom fighters, however gruesome and ultimately how little we expect from them, their presence is often enough. For women, it is much more complicated. For one, our bodies are used as weapons against us. Women are constantly told how to behave and how to act, where to live and who to be seen with. The goal seems to be to find a husband and then hope he’ll stick around, however awful he might be, the fact he is around is applauded. There was much sadness in this book, but it was handled so gracefully by Nahr that ultimately I was filled with hope. By setting the story around a strong-willed woman, who refuses to be shamed by misogyny and occupation, who makes and owns her choices, who carries the spirit of generations of women who also survived such oppressions, Susan Abulhawa has created a magnificent and empowering story that I encourage you all to read.