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Palestine and Israel since the 1930s through a poet's life
on March 29, 2009
You might think that a biography of a poet who writes in Arabic of whom you've never heard is not a book you need to read. But in the case of "MY Happiness . . ." you'd be wrong. That's because this is, in addition to being a satisfying biography of one man, the best introduction I can think of to Palestinian and Israeli history since the 1930s. With an astounding command of documents in at least three languages (Arabic, Hebrew, English) in archives all over the world, and based on interviews with both Palestinian refugees and the Israeli soldiers who ousted them from their homes, Adina Hoffman has pieced together an immensely convincing and refreshingly unbiased account of how a place changed from being the homeland of one people to the homeland of another. It is so specific, so filled with detail and first-hand accounts that it reads more like a novel than a biography. Taha Muhammad Ali himself is an immensely likable if unlikely poet, and Hoffman resists the impulse, endemic to literary biography, of trying to convince us her subject is "major." She is content to convince us of his interest as a poet, his greatness as a human being, and the complexity of his fate. Adina Hoffman lives in Jerusalem and, with her husband, a translator and poet, runs a small press that publishes poetry from the Middle East. Her own writing is wonderful.