Intricately weaving past and present, humour and pain, love and loss, “Jerusalem Stands Alone” is a beautiful homage to a living, breathing city so often reduced to nothing more than a pawn in political games.
The story begins as our protagonist, whose name we never learn, walks to the markets “surrounded by the city’s history, ghostly layers of people from past eras, men of different ages and women of different times.” Sitting at his usual perch in the Damascus Gate Café, he watches “a thin blonde foreigner slowly sipping her coffee, attentively turning the pages of her book.” This same blonde foreigner, a young woman named Suzanne who hails from Marseilles, rents a room from a Palestinian family in the city. Suzanne’s friend and the family’s eldest daughter, Rabab, reads Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot and sneaks out on Tuesday nights to visit a boy from college who thrills her with his “endless compliments”.
This intertwining of characters, of chance encounters and paths crossed, characterises “Jerusalem Stands Alone”. The book is written as a series of vignettes, short stories rarely more than a page in length, each of which bears its own title and stand-alone anecdote. Each vignette is rich with detail, affording the reader a unique insight into what goes on behind Jerusalem’s closed doors. One such vignette is “warmth”, in which the reader is transported to the bedroom of Abd El-Razzaq, a fishmonger, and his wife Khadija. Rain pours outside, but the warmth of the bed holds the “troubles of life at bay for now”. Khadija ponders how she “loves the fading light at this hour,” as she lays against her husband’s chest. The couple shares a joke about the smell of fish emanating from his skin, as she “sidles closer to him and gives in to the sound of long-awaited rain as it soaks the streets of the neighbourhood.”
This book has been shortlisted for the Palestine Book Awards 2018, please click here to read the full review on the Palestine book awards site