The Judges of the Middle East Monitor Palestine Book Awards have compiled a shortlist. Of the twenty-three books submitted, seven have been selected.
The range of books was impressive, showing how Palestine is a theme that inspires works of memoirs, imagination and scholarship. The quality of writing was also better than last year. As a judge, I found each one of them a riveting read.
One novel reached the shortlist – Ibrahim Nasrallah's Time of White Horses, translated by Nancy Roberts. This aspires to be the epic Palestinian novel. Over 600 pages long it traces the history of a Palestinian village over the course of a century. People have to cope first with the Turks, then the British and finally the Israelis.
Personal memoirs are often more revealing than works of advocacy, history or scholarship. This year three reached the shortlist.
Samia Nasir Khoury is a middle class Christian Palestinian, whose quiet, social conscience has led her to participate in public activities, welfare and education. Hers is a modest account of a good life caught up in violence and dispossession.
Anbara Salam Khalidi is from a leading Sunni Muslim family in Beirut. She married into one the most prominent Palestinian families. Her memoirs are an illuminating insight into a world that has vanished, and into the mind and life of an outstanding intellectual who had, since the First World War, an acute sense of feminine consciousness. The book is superbly translated by Anbara's son, who has been a Professor of Arabic at the University of Cambridge. Her nephew was a Professor at the University of Chicago and was one of the winners of the MEMO prize in 2013. They are all examples of the Palestinian intellectual diaspora.
The third memoir is the edited diaries of a remarkable man, Wasif Jawhariyyeh. A Jerusalem musician, his diaries cover the generations from the Ottoman period, before the First World War, to the year of the birth of the State of Israel. Wasif was a most engaging man, with friends among all the ethnic communities, drawn together by a common love of music.
Three other books reached the shortlist – a cookery book, one academic book and a work of advocacy.
The cookery book, Olives, Lemons and Za'atar by Rawia Bishara tells the story of a Palestinian who has migrated to the United States and opened a number of successful restaurants. The book is a delightfully illustrated collection of family stories and mouth-watering recipes.
The academic book is a study of Palestinians in Lebanon by Diana Allan. The refugees in the camps are preoccupied not with a return to their Palestinian homes, but with more immediate concerns, qualifications for the children to enable them to escape from the camps, hopes for joining relatives who have found a new life in Germany or the United States, or the more basic needs, getting a secure electricity supply for their homes. They realise that the return, in spite of political rhetoric, is an unattainable dream. Only a minority, when asked, choose to return. But they want the right of return to be recognised.
Ali Abunimah has been a tireless campaigner, founded the Electronic Intifada and links the struggle for Palestinian rights to other global campaigns against the inequities of capitalism. In his entry, The Battle for Justice in Palestine, he records the collapse of the Protestant hegemony in Northern Ireland and the end of apartheid in South Africa. A resolution in both cases was reached after the darkest of times. Injustice cannot be sustained forever. His message gives hope.
Ali Abunimah, The Battle for Justice in Palestine, Haymarket Books, Chicago, Ill., 2014
Diana Allan, Refugees of the Revolution, Experiences of Palestinian Exile, Stanford University Press, Stanford, Cal., 2014
Rawia Bishara, Olives, Lemons and Za'atar: The Best of Middle Eastern Home Cooking, Kyle Books, London, 2014
Wasif Jawhariyyeh, The Storyteller of Jerusalem: The Life and Times of Wasif Jawhariyyeh (tr Nada Elzeer), Olive Branch Press, Northampton, Mass., 2014
Anbara Salam Khalidi, Memoirs of an Early Arab Feminist: The Life and Activism of Anbara Salam Khalidi (tr Tarif Khalidi), Pluto Press, London, 2013
Samia Nasir Khoury, Reflections from Palestine: A Journey of Hope, Rimal Publications, Nicosia, Cyprus, 2014
Ibrahim Nasrallah, Time of White Horses (tr Nancy Roberts), American University in Cairo Press, 2013