One would be at stretch to find another place on earth where the mining of history evokes as much controversy as Palestine. You would struggle even further to name a political movement more successful than Zionism in its ability to excavate history and string together a political narrative connecting three thousand years of history to defend their rogue state’s regular violation of international laws and conventions.
Where the Bird Disappeared, a short novel by Palestinian poet and writer Ghassan Zaqtan, paints a different portrait to the exclusivist claims of the Zionist movement whose vision of a Jewish state only took concrete form through the violent interruption of history. In looking at Palestine’s past, the book stretches back to the time of the prophets who walked the land; Zaqtan weaves characters to create an inclusive narrative that could have laid the foundation of a story to bind a modern state under which Jews, Christians and Muslims, and other minorities lived as equals.
Zaqtan’s novel, translated by Samuel Wilder, is inspired by stories from the Old and New Testaments and fuses them with the Qur’an, which Muslims believe is the last of the three holy books. It is set in the Palestinian village of Zakariyya, a reference to the biblical patriarch who also appears in the Qur’an as a prophet. Zakariyya is also the main character of the book along with his best friend, Yahya, a reference to the Biblical John the Baptist. In the religious texts of the Abrahamic faiths, Zakariyya is the father of Yahya, who is also depicted as a prophet in the Qur’anic narrative.
This book won the Translation Prize for the Palestine Book Awards 2019, please click here to read the full review on the Palestine Book Awards site.