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My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet's Life in the Palestinian Century Hardcover – April 2, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. That his happiness bears a strong relationship to dispossession and exile makes Israeli Arab poet Taha Muhamad Ali, subject of this luminous biography, an iconic voice of the Palestinian consciousness. The 17-year-old Taha and his family lost their home when the Israeli army captured and demolished their village, Saffuriyya, in 1948. After a lifetime spent running a souvenir shop in Nazareth, he has recently won international acclaim for his poetry. Intersecting his perceptions with Hoffman’s own account of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (which sometimes favors the Palestinians), Israeli-American essayist Hoffman (House of Windows: Portraits from a Jerusalem Neighborhood) uses his story as the starting point for a painterly reconstruction of the lost world of Saffuriyya and its diaspora. Hoffman is a perceptive reader of Taha’s work (which she places in the context of a dynamic Palestinian literary scene) , appreciating its formal inventiveness, its dapplings of melancholy and exuberance, and its grounding in the pungent details and vernacular of village life. Looking past the usual strident politics, Hoffman presents readers with a subtle, moving evocation of the human realities of the Palestinian experience, rooted in land and memory. Photos.


Named one of the top ten biographies of 2009 by Booklist

Selected as one of best 20 books of the year by the Seminary Co-op
(The Front Table)

“[A] superb biography … a remarkable achievement.”Pankaj Mishra, New York Review of Books
(New York Review of Books)

“[A] poignant, persuasive biography.”Choice
(Choice 2009-07-01)

“[This book] reads like a novel… a biography of a Palestinian writer and the sociopolitical events that informed and shaped him as well as a look at Palestinian cultural and literary history. But it is poetry that beats at the book’s heart—the way it moves inside of Muhammad Ali, around him, the way it surprises him and questions him as he questions it.”—The American Scholar
(American Scholar)

"A triumph of sympathetic imagination, dogged research and impassioned writing. More than the story of one man's life [My Happiness] brings to light entire strata of historical and cultural experience that have been neglected or purposefully covered over. For readers of English there is no comparable work."–Robyn Creswell, The National

(The National)

“Vivid and intimate, engrossing and full of memorable characters. Every scene [Hoffman] sketches comes alive.... Taha Muhammad Ali is fortunate to have had ... [her to] tell his story with such eloquence.”—Haaretz


“A rich tapestry of the personal, the literary and the political, skillfully woven by a sympathetic writer ... Hoffman's intense but often humorous book is a powerful reminder of the singularity and complexity of this most intractable of conflicts and of the ability of the human spirit to be creative in adversity."—The Guardian

(The Guardian)

“Luminous …. Looking past the usual strident politics, Hoffman presents readers with a subtle, moving evocation of the human realities of the Palestinian experience, rooted in land and memory.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

(Publisher's Weekly)

“[Hoffman] has learned the language, prowled civilian and military archives, walked the ground and interviewed countless individuals, probing their memories of cataclysmic events occurring more than a half-century ago. The result is not just a biography of a remarkable man, but a focused history of a region…. A lovingly researched, well-rendered portrait.”—Kirkus Reviews

(Kirkus Reviews)

"Taha Muhammad Ali's . . . poems show the power of beauty in difficult times in addition to the vivid imagination, humor, and honesty of a storyteller. Biographer, essayist, and literary critic Hoffman masterfully captures the life and work of this highly original poet. An exceptional introduction to a literary world that has, until now, been little known to English-language readers, this is highly recommended for all libraries."—Library Journal
(Library Journal 2009-02-15)

"Hoffman's lively, insightful, artistically contextualized portrait of a great and accessible poet provides a corrective perspective on Palestinian culture and offers new evidence of literature's transcendent power."—Booklist, starred review
(Booklist 2009-02-01)

"Beautifully written. . . . In tracing [Muhammad Ali's] life . . . Hoffman manages to illuminate the experience of an entire people. She is scrupulously even-handed. . . . [This] is not only the biography of a remarkable man; it is an act of reclamation against the erosions of memory."—Eric Ormsby, Times Literary Supplement
(Times Literary Supplement)

"Adina Hoffman's portrait of Taha Muhammad Ali brings to life character after character, each one viewed with the author's singular humanity. The poet himself is a figure of great originality and integrity, and his life becomes a mirror of a world which we have glimpsed, until now, largely in broken fragments.  I hope this landmark book will be widely, and carefully, read."—W.S. Merwin 

(W.S. Merwin)

"From Adina Hoffman's extraordinary book, I have not only learned about the life of that wise, sweet, cunning, superbly gifted and totally original Palestinian poet, Taha Muhammad Ali, but I have learned—more than ever before—about Jewish and Arab history in Palestine. The book is heartbreaking, riveting, and beautifully written. Moreover it's one of a kind, courageous, and deeply honest."—Gerald Stern, National Book Award–winner for This Time: New and Selected Poems
(Gerald Stern)

"Adina Hoffman’s writing is historical magic. She relates world-scale political history on a human scale, so that the ‘Israeli-Palestinian’ conflict is rendered, with clarity and fairness, the story of one family, one village, one exodus, one return. At the end of the day, the meaning of this history is explored and contemplated in the ways a great novel achieves that kind of contemplation. A series of brilliantly told and searing stories, this is at once a page-turner and a book to be savored."—María Rosa Menocal, author of The Ornament of the World
(Maria Rosa Menocal)

"Reading Adina Hoffman's remarkable book we are consoled that, in the face of terrible brutalities and sufferings, the enduring power of poetry might restore in words—and celebrate—a measure of what has been lost in reality."—Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran
(Azar Nafisi)

"Adina Hoffman has given us a superbly composed meditation upon memory, truth, and conflict in the Middle East.  The texture of her prose, the improbable transformations of key characters, and above all their human depth and complexity, contribute to a luminous portrait of the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali and of his world.  I would place My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness among the five 'must read' books on the Israel-Palestine tragedy."—Michael Sells, John Henry Barrows Professor of Islamic History and Literature in the Divinity School, The University of Chicago
(Michael Sells)

"There is never a bad time for compassion. But could there possibly be a better time than now? Adina Hoffman's incredibly well-researched, thoughtful, wise biography of the fascinating Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali might be the kind of project that serves as model for all that might save a region. Someone paying deep and loving attention to someone else—someone listening, not only to his words, but to the details and context of his whole life and the experience of his people. This book is a profoundly humane and tender experience, and should not be missed by anyone who cares about a better future and respect for the past."—Naomi Shihab Nye, author of You and Yours
(Naomi Shihab Nye)

“Author Hoffman has done an admirable job of assembling this life story while it can still be told in the first person.”--Saudi Aramco World
(Saudi Aramco World)

"Informative, captivating and fast-moving, this first biography of the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali (1933- ) is a true delight to read."—Greta Aart, Cerise Press
(Greta Aart Cerise Press)

Winner of the 2013 Windham Campbell Prizes administered by the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University.
(Windham Campbell Prizes Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library 2013-03-15)

Winner, Certificate of Merit in the 2012 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Award for Excellence in Historical Sound Research in Classical Music.
(Certificate of Merit Association for Recorced Sound Collections 2013-05-24)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (April 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300141505
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300141504
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,094,179 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By P. Rose on March 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Like the poet whose life and times she evokes, Hoffman is interested in the human side of things: the touch and texture of places to which neither modern-day Israelis nor the poet himself can return; the intricate delicacies of human interaction that make the poet, his family and their history the worthy subjects of such a meticulously researched biography. Imbricating sources which range from Israeli military documents to old 1930s newspaper microfilm to records kept by the British to local literary journals to oral histories shared by Palestinians, Hoffman has performed painstakingly thorough and balanced research on a life and times-- this is no mere biographical sketch of a single poet-- which is edifying and inspiring at once. Without a hint of cliche or the kind of demonizing of either side that are all too common in narratives from this part of the world, Hoffman achieves in her book exactly what has made American audiences of all stripes stand mesmerized by the poet, Taha Muhammad Ali. Together with Muhammad Ali's poetry (Never Mind, published by Ibis Editions, and So What, Copper Canyon Press), this book should be read by anyone who wants to feel (and not merely hear in sound-bytes) this part of the world, from up close.
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Format: Hardcover
I loved reading this gracefully written book. A traditional art form - the life and times biography - at its best. With wisdom, grace and clarity, Adina Hoffman introduces her readers to the lived experiences of an individual man, and also the people -- Palestinians and Israelis -- who surrounded him, in tormented times. I felt introduced to a world I had not previously known. Tucked into the political story is a subtle literary history of Palestinian poetry that opens up new cultural understandings. More, my comprehension of the tragedies of Israel/Palestine has been sharpened by these pages; I predict that "My Happiness..." will make readers across the political spectrum stop in their tracks and reconsider some of their assumptions. This is an eloquent book that makes an ethical difference.
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This is the biography of a Muslim poet who makes his living selling Christian trinkets to Jews. It illuminates our American misunderstanding of the history of Israel and Palestine in a manner that is accessible, even-handed and fascinating. Unless you are a poet or English teacher, you may find yourself skimming the sections on poetry, but no matter, this is a book well worth reading.
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Adina Hoffman has written an extraordinary book. Its presentation of Palestinian poet Taha Ali Muhammad is vivid, thoughtful, and incisive. It is filled with subtle understandings of a person and his history, from village life to his intellectual context. Adina takes us deep into the Palestinian village of Taha's childhood. We follow the poet, steeped in the ancient oral culture of his people as he first encounters the written word as a boy; a magically drawn portrait. From this exquisite encounter, Taha takes a sustaining portion into the years ahead, of exile in his own country. It is an important part of a story in which written and spoken accounts of the same events diverge so greatly. Adina does both extensive interviews and digging into the written record. She is unflinching in her search to understand what happened when one people came to establish a homeland and encountered another already calling that place home. Adina delves into the complexity of the Middle East while capturing the essential humaneness of Taha's writing. For a deeper understanding of this as yet to be known literature and this area of the world, make time to read this remarkable book.
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I am enjoying reading this book for the impartial content, the author's clear, well-written style and thorough investigative endeavor. I recommend it highly to readers.
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