Friday, July 03, 2009

Novelist Claire Messud on Palestine

Novelist Claire Messud recently attended the Palestine Festival of Literature in the West Bank, and she just published a wonderful essay about her experiences here. She captures beautifully the dreadful reality of daily life--which I experienced last summer during my two weeks there as well. (I found this thanks to Angry Arab.) Please read the entire piece. I reproduce an excerpt below:

The Ramallah-based architect and writer Suad Amiry put it best when she explained that to be Palestinian now means never to feel at home, because you have no control over time or space. You can live a lifetime in one place and yet not master its geography: routes long-familiar will suddenly be blocked off by barriers or checkpoints; while open spaces in the middle-distance will sprout settlements almost overnight, vast urban conglomerations that change the landscape altogether. You can live a lifetime in one place and yet never know how long it takes to get anywhere: a mere 20-mile journey might consume a whole day, depending on the checkpoints and the whim of the soldiers you encounter. You might never get there at all: you could well be turned back.

I read Claire Messud's 1999 novel, The Last Life, which is about a French pied noir family. (Messud's father was one, a French settler in Algeria.) I didn't much care for it because I felt it really didn't grapple seriously with the French colonial past in Algeria. Based on this essay, I'm going to have to revise my opinion, and maybe check out The Emperor's Children (soon to come out as a movie directed by Ron Howard).

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