The novel opens with a bang - literally - as a young Palestinian named Rashid Mujahed smokes a joint in his bedroom as Israeli warplanes pound Gaza. He is vaguely aware of the carnage taking place around him but foremost on his mind is an email he had received offering him the chance to go to London on a scholarship - and to again meet with Lisa, a girl he had met previously while working at a crisis center in Gaza. He just wants out and he is counting the days.
His sister Iman is introduced to us via group meeting where, sick of inaction, is looking for a way to do something about the conditions she and her people live in. So desperate to make a difference, she is coaxed by another woman to meet with a contact who belongs to a certain group committed to “doing something” - a reckless decision which gains the attention of an unknown fighter who begins to keep an eye on the young girl.
Their older brother Sabri sits legless at his desk, working on a tome about the history of Palestine. Sabri was wounded in an explosion, one in which he was targeted and cost him the lives of his Christian wife and infant son. He is connected to “The Authority”, looking for a way to fight for his people’s rights and dignity. He asks Rashid to do him a favor while in London - to meet with a history professor well versed in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There is something he wants his little brother to know.
Their mother - stays at home, fights with the neighbors and looks after her children. But she has a past that the younger of the three children know nothing about and that knowledge will effect each one in a different and significant way.
Told from various viewpoints, we follow this family as they struggle to come to terms with the political and social situation in Gaza in particular - which is under siege by constant bombings, bulldozings, fractured alliances and infighting - and the Palestinian struggle in general. We follow each character from Gaza to London to the Gulf States and back to Gaza, where each one is changed by their interaction with varied individuals they meet. Rashid and Imran - and their friend Khalil - meet with “concerned citizens” about their plight only to have the rug pulled out from under them (Rashid in particular) who comes to learn a very valuable lesson about people from the outside looking to “help” their situation. The novel delves into historical matters regarding the decades long conflict and offers a point of view not normally given in the West - and in Western media in particular. Overall, the novel is infused with politics and what it means to be politically engaged and these questions are raised via the various characters throughout the story - and for each one, the answer will be different.
I found myself having a better understanding of this tragic conflict which seems to be never ending. But it is written without (or very little) preaching and soapbox posturing. We experience the sometimes patronizing attitudes that come with those who are well intentioned but in reality too far removed from the situation both historically and culturally to truly understand what’s at stake - and how sometimes people are used in order to ease their own consciences. It’s all told in a very entertaining and straightforward way that keeps the reader engaged in the story as well as being sympathetic to each of the characters and the various points of view they hold.
For those who want a different look into this issue, this book is a great read, one that comes highly recommended.