Mornings in Jenin (Paperback)
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 9781608190461, 331pp.
Publication Date: February 15, 2010
Mornings in Jenin is a multi-generational story about a Palestinian family. Forcibly removed from the olive-farming village of Ein Hod by the newly formed state of Israel in 1948, the Abulhejos are displaced to live in canvas tents in the Jenin refugee camp. We follow the Abulhejo family as they live through a half century of violent history. Amidst the loss and fear, hatred and pain, as their tents are replaced by more forebodingly permanent cinderblock huts, there is always the waiting, waiting to return to a lost home.
The novel's voice is that of Amal, the granddaughter of the old village patriarch, a bright, sensitive girl who makes it out of the camps, only to return years later, to marry and bear a child. Through her eyes, with her evolving vision, we get the story of her brothers, one who is kidnapped to be raised Jewish, one who will end with bombs strapped to his middle. But of the many interwoven stories, stretching backward and forward in time, none is more important than Amal's own. Her story is one of love and loss, of childhood and marriage and parenthood, and finally the need to share her history with her daughter, to preserve the greatest love she has.
Set against one of the twentieth century's most intractable political conflicts, Mornings in Jenin is a deeply human novel - a novel of history, identity, friendship, love, terrorism, surrender, courage, and hope. Its power forces us to take a fresh look at one of the defining conflicts of our lifetimes.
About the Author
Praise For Mornings in Jenin…
“In these lean times for the book industry, a second chance for a work of literary fiction is beyond fantastical—akin to seeing the Mona Lisa twitch. To resort to a quaint phrase from publishing days of yore, someone at Bloomsbury obviously believed in this book, and, politics aside for a moment, it's easy to see why. Abulhawa is a passionate writer whose limber, poetic style transports a reader deep inside the war-torn world she chronicles…. Melodramatic? Certainly. Polemical? Absolutely. But, Mornings in Jenin is also a terrifically affecting novel, thanks to Abulhawa's elegance as a writer. It's a novel to savor.”—Maureen Corrigan, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Abulhawa has created a compassionate, ground-level view of a Palestinian family caught in the heart-wrenching realities of life in the Middle East.”—Dianna Marder, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“In the acknowledgments to her novel Mornings in Jenin (Bloomsbury, February), Susan Abulhawa recalls being inspired by Edward Said’s lament “that the Palestinian narrative was lacking in literature.” Published as Scars of David in 2006, Abulhawa’s newly re-edited novel fills that gap, chronicling the development of the Jewish state and its consequences for local Arabs from a decidedly Palestinian perspective.”—Tablet: A New Read on Jewish Life
“In this richly detailed, beautiful and resonant novel examining the Palestinian and Jewish conflicts from the mid-20th century to 2002 … Abulhawa gives the terrible conflict a human face … [and] makes a great effort to empathize with all sides and tells an affecting and important story that succeeds as both literature and social commentary.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Audacious, no-holds-barred account of a Palestinian family’s suffering during 60 years of Israeli occupation … A potent debut.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Abulhawa’s debut novel is a powerful portrayal of what might be labeled the “other side” of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the viewpoint of Palestinian refugees uprooted in 1948…. An intimate look at the refugee existence by a daughter of refugees.”—Booklist
“Mornings in Jenin is a powerful and passionate insight into what many Palestinians have had to endure since the state of Israel was created. Susan Abulhawa guides us through traumatic events with anger and great tenderness too, creating unforgettable images of a world in which humanity and inhumanity, selflessness and selfishness, love and hate grow so close to each other.”—Michael Palin
“Mornings in Jenin is a powerful and sensitive narrative that encapsulates the Palestinian experience with searing honesty and moving compassion. Susan Abulhawa displays linguistic and imaginative skills that single her out as a literary figure with tremendous promise… In both its specific Palestinian content and its larger human dimension, this novel is at once a challenge to complacency and ignorance as well as an affirmation of all that is enduring and valuable in the undefeated human spirit.”—Hanan Ashrawi, founder and Secretary General of the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH), and author of This Side of Peace: A Personal Account
“A powerful and heartbreaking book.”—Esther Freud
“The voice of Susan Abulhawa is honest, every word is heartfelt, the aim to honour history and acknowledge its facts. This book is a ‘tour’ waiting to take with it all kinds of readers: the already converted, the uninformed, and especially those who are fortunate enough to live secure lives.”—Hanan al-Shaykh
“I finished Susan Abulhawa’s novel last night. As I came to the end I could hardly bear to read it. But I did and I loved it ... what she’s done is that great Jane Eyre thing: here is my life, here is a life, from the very beginning to its very end; here is her family and her heart, her people and her land. You travel with her on every page.”—Carmen Callil
“I love Mornings in Jenin … It really is a great work—the epic novel the Palestinian tragedy has been waiting for.”— Robin Yassin-Kassab
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- Mornings in Jenin opens with a prelude set in Jenin in 2002, as Amal faces an Israeli soldier’s gun. How does this prelude set the scene for the novel to come? Why does the novel open here, in contemporary Jenin, rather than at the beginning of the Abulheja family’s story? Why do you think the author wanted the reader to know in the prelude that the main character was “an American citizen”?
- Discuss the dual traditions of land and learning in the Abulheja family. Which members of the family seem to value land over education, and vice versa? In which family members do these two traditions come together? What common values do all members of this family share? How do these values compare to the values of farmers or of those who in another way live “close to the earth” in other countries?
- The boyhood friendship between Hasan and Ari Perlstein is “consolidated in the innocence of their twelve years, the poetic solitude of books, and their disinterest in politics” (9). What do Hasan and Ari learn from each other? Considering that Palestine had historically been a country where people of all three monotheistic religions lived in relative harmony, do you think such friendships between children like Ari and Hasan were unusual then? Could two children like Hasan and Ari have become friends in a later time period? Why or why not?
- In Jenin, the early morning “was a time and place where the hope of returning home could be renewed” (41). What rituals take place in the early morning hours? What is the significance of the title Mornings in Jenin?
- Find scenes in the novel when family strife and political strife intersect. What are some problems that the Abulheja family faces day-to-day? Which family conflicts are caused by the political situation, and which seem common to families in all parts of the world?
- Discuss the series of events that lead to Ismael’s new life as David. What connections can be drawn between Moshe’s kidnapping and Israel’s actions toward the Palestinian people? What wounds are healed when David discovers his real identity?
- Hasan tells his daughter, “Amal, with the long vowel, means hopes, dreams, lots of them” (72). What hopes and dreams does Amal’s name suggest for the Abulheja family, and to what degree is she able to fulfill them? How do her hopes and dreams change when she calls herself “Amy” in America?
- After surviving a week underground during the 1967 conflict, Amal denies knowing Dalia. Why does she renounce her mother? What are the consequences of Amal’s “disgraceful lie” (74)?
- Haj Salem tells Amal, “We’re all born with the greatest treasures we’ll ever have in life. One of those treasures is your mind, another is your heart” (133). How does Haj Salem’s speech influence Amal’s decision to go to school in Jerusalem? Explain why Amal considers his words “the greatest wisdom ever imparted to me by another human being” (133).
- Amal and Yousef both lose the people they love most in the attacks on Lebanon in 1982. How do brother and sister react differently to their tragedies, and why? How does this tragedy drive them further apart, instead of closer in their grief? How do you think Amal’s reaction might have been different had she not been pregnant?
- Amal associates Dalia’s stoic behavior with a line of her mother’s advice: “Whatever you feel, keep it inside” (204). When does Amal follow Dalia’s example, and when does she break from it? How does Amal’s behavior with her daughter, Sara, resemble Dalia’s mothering? Discuss how Amal comes to the following realization: “Dalia, Um Yousef, the untiring mother who gave far more than she ever received, was the tranquil, quietly toiling well from which I have drawn strength all my life” (274).
- Consider the Israeli characters within Mornings in Jenin: Ari Perlstein, Moshe, Jolanta, and David’s sons. How do their experiences compare to the experiences of the Abulheja family? What do these Israeli voices add to the novel?
- What layers of meaning can you find in the title of part III, “The Scar of David,” which was the original title of the book?
- On page 270, when David asks if Amal still sees him as an abstraction, she thinks, “No... You and I are the remains of an unfulfilled legacy, heirs to a kingdom of stolen identities and ragged confusion.” What do you think Amal means by this? How do you see this statement in the context of the Palestinian struggle?
- In their final conversations, as tanks roll through Jenin, Amal explains many of her hardships to her daughter, Sara. Why did Amal grieve “three thousand times” on September 11th (300)? How was Amal’s experience similar and different from the widows’ of 9/11? How did Sara misinterpret her mother’s grief at the time?
- Nearly all of the characters in this book are transformed in one way or another by personal and international events. How are the transformations of Moshe, Dalia, Amal, and Yousef similar and how are they different? Of them, who undergoes the most dramatic change?
- Why does the novel end with words from Yousef, who lives in exile? What mood does Yousef’s perspective create at the end of the book? Is it a surprise to learn that Yousef had not driven the bomb truck into the U.S. embassy in 1983? Considering that the PLO fighters who were exiled to Tunis in 1982 lost their families in the Sabra and Shatila carnage and none chose to respond with violence, why do you think the author chose this ending? What is the significance of the chapter title “The Cost of Palestine”?
- If at all, how has this story changed how you view the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? Did you learn things that surprised you?
- In the chapter where the story comes full circle to the prelude, how do you think Amal can face this soldier holding a rifle to her head with “a mother’s love and a dead woman’s calm” (305)? In this same chapter, consider the following passage in the context of how you think of soldiers and war, whether in your own country or elsewhere: The power he holds over life is a staggering burden for so young a man. He knows it and wants it lifted. He is too handsome not to have a girlfriend nervously waiting for his return. He would rather be with her than with his conscience . . . But he has never seen his victim’s face. My eyes, soft with a mother’s love and a dead woman’s calm, weigh him down with his own power and I think he will cry. Not now. Later. When he is face-to-face with his dreams and his future. I feel sad for him. Sad for the boy bound to the killer. I am sad for the youth betrayed by their leaders for symbols and flags and war and power.