It takes a certain level of skill to encapsulate the plight of an oppressed people, the nostalgia of distant and forgotten days, and the inexplicable heartbreak of generational trauma in short stories – there is simply barely enough space to attain that sort of depth – but those in ‘Out of Time: The Collected Stories of Samira Azzam’ somehow achieve that.
Published by Arablit Books, the book’s 31 stories range in storylines, but all express the daily concerns and lives lived by people interconnected in the same web of injustice and reminiscence. Rather than explicitly and grandly focusing on the big picture of occupation, disenchantment and exile, they draw attention to the experiences and realities lived by various players in society itself.
When reading Azzam’s short stories, it is difficult for the reader not to feel a heavy sense of melancholy – it pours out of the pages and seeps into the heart while, at the same time, providing lessons in perspective and thought-provoking questions. This is made all the more possible with Ranya Abdelrahman’s translation, which strives to capture the essence and feeling of the stories.
Many of the perspectives provided in the stories likely emerge from the author’s own life and experiences, with Azzam being 21-years-old at the time of the Nakba (‘catastrophe’) of 1948, when an estimated 700,00 Palestinians were uprooted from their homes, properties and land by the Zionist occupation forces and expelled from their historic homeland.
She was subsequently forced to relocate to Lebanon with her family, before moving to Iraq and working as a teacher, journalist, author and radio broadcaster. In August 1967, after tragically watching her homeland, once more, change and fall under complete occupation that year, Azzam went on a road trip with friends to Jordan, where she had intended to interview Palestinians who had been exiled there, when she suffered a heart attack and died close to the Syrian-Jordanian border. She was aged just 39.
Although many stories circulate around the daily struggles of people, not only in Palestine or amongst the Palestinian diaspora, but also in other areas such as Iraq during World War I, they progressively become more political as the book goes on, while maintaining the subtlety that characterises them.
This book is on the shortlist for the Palestine Book Awards 2023, please click here to read the full review on the Palestine Book Awards site.