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Seeking Palestine
New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home
edited by Penny Johnson and Raja Shehadeh

published 2012 • 6" x 9" • 202 pages
ISBN 9781566569064 • paperback • $16.00

“Palestinian writers explore exile and home in this edited volume. While beautiful and haunting, the pieces never reduce exile to a realm of pure romance but instead politicize and historicize the displacement of Palestinians since the 1948 Nakba (‘castastrophe’). Johnson (independent researcher, Institute of Women’s Studies, Birzeit Univ.) and Shehadeh (a lawyer; author of Occupation Diaries, 2012) take their inspiration from the Palestine Festival of Literature, where the anthology was originally conceived. Contributors draw on the intimate and visceral, from Lila Abu-Lughod’s memories of her father, to Fady Joudah’s verse revelations on the insights of his children, to Karma Nabulsi’s tracing of Palestinian revolutionary life across generations. In Adania Shibli’s ‘Of Place, Time, and Language,’ the author recounts how her watch curiously stops moving during an Israeli airport security search: ‘maybe it simply refuses to count the time that is seized from my life.’ The book’s sections, ‘Exile/Home,’ ‘Home/Exile,’ and ‘At Home in What World?’ structure an arc, moving from displacement across great distance, to internal exile, and finally the possible or impossible future: the exile’s object of longing. Selected images from artist Emily Jacir precede each section, juxtaposing photographs with Arabic and English text. An indispensable work for popular and scholarly collections. Summing Up: Essential.
—Choice

“Editors Johnson and Shehadeh bring together 15 Palestinian writers and artists, some famous and others relative unknowns, to share their impressions of and reflections on the 'quandaries of exile and unrequited homesickness...' Deeply personal...these contributions… explore the consequences of embracing an identity where 'home is forbidden from being home.'
Publishers Weekly


More Reviews »

Fifteen Palestinian writers reflect on their experiences of exile 

“Palestine-in-exile,” says Rana Barakat, “is an idea, a love, a goal, a movement, a massacre, a march, a parade, a poem, a thesis, a novel and, yes, a commodity, as well as a people scattered, displaced, dispossessed and determined.”

How do Palestinians live, imagine and reflect on home and exile in this period of a stateless and transitory Palestine, a deeply contested and crisis-ridden national project, and a sharp escalation in Israeli state violence and accompanying Palestinian oppression? How can exile and home be written?

In this volume of new writing, fifteen innovative and outstanding Palestinian writers—essayists, poets, novelists, critics, artists and memoirists—respond with their reflections, experiences, memories and polemics. What is it like, in the words of Lila Abu-Lughod, to be “drafted into being Palestinian?” What happens when you take your American children—as Sharif Elmusa does—to the refugee camp where you were raised? And how can you convince, as Suad Amiry attempts to do, a weary airport official to continue searching for a code for a country that isn’t recognized?

Contributors probe the past through unconventional memories, reflecting on 1948 when it all began. But they are also deeply interested in beginnings, imagining, in the words of Mischa Hiller, “a Palestine that reflects who we are now and who we hope to become.” Their contributions—poignant, humorous, intimate, reflective, intensely political—make for an offering that is remarkable for the candor and grace with which it explores the many individual and collective experiences of waiting, living for, and seeking Palestine.

Contributors include: Lila Abu-Lughod, Susan Abulhawa, Suad Amiry, Rana Barakat, Mourid Barghouti, Beshara Doumani, Sharif S. Elmusa, Rema Hammami, Mischa Hiller, Emily Jacir, Penny Johnson, Fady Joudah, Jean Said Makdisi, Karma Nabulsi, Raeda Sa’adeh, Raja Shehadeh, Adania Shibli.

Penny Johnson is an independent researcher who works closely with the Institute of Women’s Studies at Birzeit University, where she edits the Review of Women’s Studies. Recent writing and research on Palestine has focused on weddings and wars, wives of political prisoners, and young Palestinians’ talk about proper and improper marriages. She is an Associate Editor of the Jerusalem Quarterly.

Raja Shehadeh is a Ramallah-based Palestinian lawyer and writer. He is the founder of the pioneering non-partisan human rights organization, Al Haq, an affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists, and the author of several books about international law, human rights and the Middle East. He is also the author of the award-winning Palestinian Walks, A Rift in Time: Travels with My Ottoman Uncle and Occupation Diaries.


Media Reviews

“How can an essentially sad story give such pleasure? The answer is in these narratives: these stories, memoirs, poems are a pleasure and an education; personal, vivid, original, sometimes witty, always accomplished, always honest. They are a testimonial to the human spirit, and to the growing contribution of Palestine to literature.”
Ahdaf Soueif, Booker Prize Finalist for The Map of Love; author of In the Eye of the Sun

“Whereas writing on Palestine is often encumbered by the baggage of ideology, and writings from within Palestine are unfortunately few, this collection of essays frames itself as writing in search of Palestine, seeking less to represent a place than to capture its imaginations…Throughout, the authors work to untether the hyphenated “nation-state,” embracing instead the future of a people. Since, as poet and physician Fady Joudah reflects, ‘what has not yet arrived has not yet been lost.’”
Booklist

“It may be quite correct to assume that most poets and novelists could not lead such a perilous expedition but then that is not their role. Instead their task is to write and in doing so teach, inform, enlighten and entertain. A role beautifully fulfilled in this fine collection of new Palestinian writing on exile and home.”
Upstart

“In these grittily poetic stories, Palestinian writers imaginatively reclaim what has been lost.”
Fiona Capp, The Age

“Wry, candid, poignant, Seeking Palestine is a tribute to a people who no matter how displaced and dispossessed remain nevertheless determined.”
Rakhshanda Jalil, The Hindu

"Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home, edited by Penny Johnson and Raja Shehadeh, is a unique collection of writing and images by artists coming from a variety of different disciplines, from academics in the social and political sciences, to poets, award-winning fiction and nonfiction writers, the writers of bestsellers as well as visual artists. It is a motley variety of styles and approaches with an unwaveringly high quality of writing throughout, a credit to the editors as well as the contributors themselves. This is an extraordinarily frank, fresh and unsentimental assessment of what Palestinians are and have become. It is not only a testimony as to the strength, dedication and sticking power of Palestinian people, but also of the writers themselves."
Electronic Intifada

"A particular strength of this book is its ability to reach out to different experiences of exile. Many people can relate to the feeling of being a foreigner, and the implications that might have on their lives, decisions and the choices they make along the way...each chapter of Seeking Palestine offers a new element to the image of Palestine, weaving together an eclectic mix of writers, each offering a new lens through which to view, understand and imagine their country and exile."
Middle East Monitor

This collection of essays captures the challenges facing Palestinians today, both those who live within the occupied territories and those abroad. Honest, humorous, politically charged and intimate, the anthology emerged from Palfest, the Palestinian literary festival whose participants include authors from all over the world. Through dialogue amongst writers from Palestine and abroad, the idea for such a text came into being. Penny Johnson writes expressively in her introduction: ‘it seemed very much like our writers were conversing with each other—and with Palestinian writers before them—exchanging memories, reflections, an occasional joke or a poignant moment of sorrow, like friends on a summer night in the cool hills of Palestine.’”
—Banipal



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Of Related Interest:
Walking Palestine
Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
Jerusalem
Speaking the Truth
A Comprehensive Dictionary of the Middle East
Palestine (2nd ed.)