The Book of Gaza-a city in short fiction
The Book of Gaza is the latest in Comma Press’ series of city short story books. Right now, it’s the most relevant so I was really interested in seeing what it would be about. It is made up of ten short stories, written by pioneers of the Gazan short story to more younger authors of the form. It aims to show us a world that goes beyond the media and propaganda out there.
Half of the authors are written by women and very much centre on female issues-the body, sexuality, relationships and family. Most of the short stories are based in or around the sea, this being an important emblem of freedom or independence, I would think.
The collection opens with A journey in the opposite direction and is written by a young author, Atef Abu Saif. It documents a day in the life of some young people in the city of Gaza and how their lives connect and merge. It was a chance for me to throw off the preconceived images I might have had of the city of Gaza and the camps. It portrayed a youth in a hopeful city of cafes and street corners but never forgetting where they are.
The next story I’d like to mention is The Sea Cloak by young writer and Palestinian activist Nayrouz Qarmout. It opens dramatically with a scene of 2 children playing “Jews and Arabs” and centres around the sexual coming of age of the female character in it. The sea takes centre stage and it is where the girl has her first sexual encounter. Beautifully written and the setting blew me away. We also get insight into the way the females are treated in this part of the world and how the women there struggle to be heard and be treated as equal.
The Whore of Gaza by Najlaa Attaallah shows us an empowered women living in the Gaza strip. She takes full control, or so she thinks by the end of the story. Really interesting and artistic imagery here.
Possibly, my favourite was A White flower for David. Before I started reading this, I was apprehensive as I thought it may be written from a very pro-Palestine perspective but this story manages to help the reader see both sides of the conflict. We have a relationship between an Israeli soldier and his family and a Palestinian family. We see one version of what it must be like to live in one of the refugee camps. Very touching and sentiment is held back.
In Abu Jaber goes back to the woods written by the father of the Gazan short story, Zaki al’ Ela, we see a very aggressive and bloody, confused refugee camp. This is a place of turmoil and interesting that this collection chooses to give us many sides, many settings, many feelings, opinions and questions but yet, we can come to the conclusion that nothing is as simple as is portrayed. Even within this piece of fiction, we will need to read widely, question frequently and hope and care for all the humans affected by this history, conflict and setting in the Gazan strip.
This collection is worth a read absolutely. I am not sure how much of it would have been censored at the time but because we have ten stories to read and take in, we can start to see a common thread-the human condition and this is the beauty of the short story. It works.
The Book of Gaza-a city in short fiction published by Comma Press and edited by Atef Abu Saif is available now. Get it now while you can be part of the debate.