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Born a Refugee: A Novel of One Palestinian Family Paperback – January 16, 2010
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
The haunting yet beautiful story of a family of four brothers and their widowed mother living in a tiny house in the Kalandia Refugee Camp near Jerusalem as they face the struggle and hope of their daily lives. Gripping, well-written, and engaging, Born a Refugee is a powerful look at Palestinian life. --Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
This is a deep, rich, poignant and profoundly humanistic book. It is also one of the best "political" books I have ever read.
Hallaj is a very good reader of the mind set of others. Her characters are believable, and her understanding of the issues facing now stateless people walking their own ancestors' lands is sharp and profound. Politicians who really care for the pursuit of peace should read this book, whatever side of the wicked divide birth or conviction puts them on. --Richard Bunning, AIA Reviewer --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Dixiane Hallaj spent eleven years living and working in Jordan and the West Bank, raising her own family as part of her husband's extended family. The family had lived the refugee experience and shared this experience with her. She recently spent time in the refugee camps of the West Bank while researching her award-winning dissertation that studied stories and lives of illiterate women living in the camps.
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Top Customer Reviews
The central thesis, a family that could be any one's neighbours anywhere of Earth, except that they are struggling against the crush of a "foreign" military occupation, living between Jerusalem and Ramallah, is brilliantly constructed.
Whilst telling one extended family's story Hallaj very cleverly keeps the reader linked to the massive historical waves convulsing the nowadays lands of Abraham. The chosen device, the start of chapter historic, headline, quote, works very well.
Hallaj is a very good reader of the mind set of others. Her characters are totally believable, and her understanding of the issues facing now stateless people walking their own ancestors' lands seems to me to be sharp and profound. Politicians who really care for the pursuit of peace should read this book, whatever side of the wicked divide birth or conviction puts them on.
My only gripe is that Hallaj is far too soft on the terrors on both sides of the story. For me the time for soft kicks, for common sense to find solutions, ended with the death of Ben Gurion, a long life far too short. But then again, if ever peace is to come and it can only come through peaceful means then this book may well be a cathartic part of the build. No antagonists can justifiably claim that this read is too hurtful of their sensibilities. For those such as me, distant from the issues, this is a fiction that I feel accurately reflects a continuing truth. Whilst it is only too easy for me to say the words that this book boils in me, I fully acknowledge that if I had been born to either side I would likely be a thorn rather than a peacemaker. Only extraordinarily brave people will ever change things, but I'm sure the humanitarian values portrayed in books like this are a modest but valuable step. We all have mothers.
I didn't really get into the book until Selim was killed. I didn't feel like the characters were very well developed until possibly that point and I had no feelings for them until then.
The plot jumped forward in time hitting a few deaths, a few demonstrations, a few encounters with soldiers. Sometimes subplots were left dangling. I kept waiting for her to come back and tell us, for one example, what the results of the talk Mahmoud and Afaf had about the comment about the wedding sheets- did she say it because she looked down on the old traditions or because she wasn't a virgin?
The afterward had so much information, she could have written another book. It's nice to know what happens to characters, but sometimes it'd be better to leave it to imagination.
The ending was a bit too cheery. Everything seemed to work out pretty well for everyone despite a few minor bumps in the road. At the end, I kind of wanted a happy, but tortured end to symbolize the situation that going on in a larger sense. It's true that they lost a brother and son, but Muhammed ended up being fine and went on to get a career and wife rather than come out of his catatonic state angry and join a resistance group. Having no one in the family serve jail time- I don't know if this is realistic or if perhaps I have a bit pessimistic view of actual events... Everyone got married and had kids and jobs, etc.
I did thouroughly enjoy the descriptions in funerals, weddings, encounters with soldiers, demonstrations, etc that showed Palestinian life and culture. I thought these individual things were great, but they didn't flow into one story well-it kind of jumped from these well described events one to the next rather abruptly.
Mahmoud and Ali were pretty well developed, along with Mother. Afaf, on the other hand, was pretty poorly developed and she had a major character shift for no other apparent reason that she got pregnant. She used to be deceitful and snobby and suddenly she's planning Ali's wedding and ululating with the refugee camp folk. Maybe pregnancy can do that to some folks, but I wanted a better explanation or development for a change that drastic.
It is both good and bad that the book wasn't all that dated like a historical fiction. It was mentioned that the mother had experienced the Nakba with the father and perhaps a kid or two, so this dated it somewhat, but specific historical events were not focused on. Mahmoud was not political, so this wasn't a particularly political book. I kind of like the fact that dates and historical events weren't focused on, so it was more of a story, but the plot and characters were a bit weak, so that wasn't so good. I have to say that since it was said Mahmoud was one of the least political people, I thought he wasn't long for this earth. I was wrong.
While I didn't love the book overall, I think it is an important topic and I was glad to be able to do so. Maybe my kids will also read about the Nakba in school as we did only the Jewish Holocaust. It and the underlying issues are becoming quite relevant to our present.
I read that she was an American married to a Palestinian before reading the book, but I think I may have been able to guess this from the writing. I do think she still did an excellent job describing some customs and traditions in Palestine, but may have enjoyed it more had she written from a point of view more comfortable for her- American female rather than Arab male. Though, that may have resulted in something more autobiographical than she wanted...
I would strongly recommend Mornings in Jenin. It was phenomenal and heart wrenching.