Miral by Rula Jebreal
It was written in several parts: Hind, Nadia, Fatima, Miral, Hani.
At first I wasn't sure I'd like it. The first part, Hind, was written from a distant, omniscient point of view rather than stepping into any one character's shoes. It seemed more like instructions for the movie, but more prose than stage direction. This sort of thing wouldn't have been so out of place in a memoir, but in a novel, it left me wondering when it was going to pick up or get a little more personal. It was hard to get into, but this first part was definitely necessary to set the story up. You need the info later. I wish there had been a better way to accomplish it, though. We do meet Miral near the end of this part, so I decided to hold on to see what happens with her.
In Nadia's section, Part II, there is an abrupt change. It seems to have no connection to anything else and I was totally confused. The story begins to be told from Nadia's point of view, which is a definite improvement. Maybe that is why the story grabs me at this point and I decide I will probably finish it.
Fatima's part is pretty much about Nadia. Fatima is in prison for a failed terrorist attack, which is an interesting perspective. Also a good part of this section is that Jebreal takes an opportunity through Nadia to explore an aspect of the identity question- are you Israeli, Palestinian, neither, etc.
Miral is Nadia's daughter and that is the name of the next section. Things are starting to be a little more connected. I thought it was interesting that Nadia thought everyone treated her with more respect because they thought she was in jail for what Fatima was (planning an attack). Jamal, Fatima's brother, moved Miral and Rania to Hind's school and changed their last name in part because the family name was tainted by Fatima's attack. Having to send them to the orphanage/school was so sad- as were the orphans' stories.
The way Haifa is described was something I had heard of Jerusalem (Kai Bird's book) pre-1948 or 1967- Arabs and Jews together, many nationalities, politics consciously ignored, harmony, parties, etc. I had never heard that of Haifa; maybe different cities experienced their times of peace at different times.
I enjoyed the strong, beautiful, independent women with a variety of perspectives as main characters throughout the book. The book focuses on women who don't trust men, who don't follow the predictable path and who want the freedom to find their own way.
One thing I felt was left hanging was that we never really found out what happened to Nadia's first child. She left it with her mother after forgiving her, with the guarantee that her sister and her husband would look after her. In one way, I guess that's enough, but I kind of wanted to know what happened to her, if Miral met her, if she could have been worked into the story- she did find out about her having a different father than Rania. Also, I would have liked to have heard more about Ruba, Nadia's youngest sister. It makes sense that she was much younger and so wasn't as close with Nadia and Tamam, but I wonder if she was abused as well and if she ever saw her mother, Nadia or Tamam.
The personal stories stood out to me. We often group Palestinians into one or two neat categories- Palestinians or Israeli Palestinians, extremist Palestinians or moderates, diaspora or Palestinians in Palestine. This book gives us some food for thought that there are many different reactions to grief and tragedy, different reactions to the occupation, different ways to think of identity. There is occupation related tragedy and the same abuse and death all of us are familiar with (sometimes compounded by the occupation).
I ended up really liking the book. I got the movie from Netflix soon after and it was also great, but reading the book first was extremely helpful. I hadn't realized the book was at least partly autobiographical. That added a lot, IMO. I tend to like a memoir more than a novel anyway. :)
This has an interview with the author: