In the small Palestinian farming village of Beit Daras, the women of the Baraka family inspire awe. Nazmiyeh is brazen and fiercely protective of her clairvoyant little sister, Mariam, with her mismatched eyes, and of their mother, Um Mamdouh, known for the fearsome djinni that sometimes possesses her. When the family is forced by the newly formed State of Israel to leave their ancestral home, only Nazmiyeh and her brother survive the long road to Gaza. Amidst the violence and fragility of the refugee camp, Nazmiyeh builds a family, navigates crises, and nurtures what remains of Beit Daras’s community. But her brother continues his exile’s journey to America, where, upon his death, his granddaughter Nur grows up alone, in a different kind of exile, the longing for family and roots eventually beckoning her to Gaza.
I knew this book was going to destroy my heart before I even picked it up. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of Susan Abulhawa – she might be one of my favourite Palestinian authors of all time. The way she writes her stories is so raw and so real that I sometimes feel like I’m right there alongside the characters and experiencing whatever they are experiencing. Susan Abulhawa’s books depict the Palestinian experience and the lives of Palestinians so realistically and I seriously recommend her books to anyone who wants to read fiction books set in Palestine.
“The day came when Israel removed its settlers. The world said it was as if Israel had cut off one of its limbs for the sake of peace. Palestinians in Gaza sucked air through their teeth and rolled their eyes. Isn’t it something, they said. They steal and steal, kill and maim, and they’re so brave for giving it back after they’ve depleted the soil of clean water and nutrients.
The Blue Between Sky and Water is Abulhawa’s second novel, and is about a family who is exiled from Beit Daras and forced to move to a refugee camp in southern Gaza. Similar to Mornings in Jenin, this book follows the lives of many generations in a single family – this time, the Baraka’s. However, something different about The Blue Between Sky and Water is that it has supernatural elements to it. If you’re someone who loves to read about djinns and auras, I’m sure you’ll really enjoy this book! Although one of the main characters in the book is male, The Blue Between Sky and Water is a very woman-driven and woman-led book. It really focuses on the role of sisters, mothers, wives and daughters, and how powerful those relationships can be. I highly recommend this book to anyone that wants to read a strong female-led story.
“You are the most spectacular person I have ever known, my little sister. Remember how special you are, how loved you are. We will always be together.”
I fell in love with Nazmiyeh, one of the main characters, immediately. The way she protected her sister, Mariam, was so heartwarming to see, especially since I absolutely love reading about sibling relationships in books. I also loved how bold and unapologetic she was – she said what came to mind and did not care what anyone thought! She owns her body, her thoughts, her sexuality and it was very, very, nice to see that. This both gets her into and out of trouble, and her quips are bound to have you laughing out loud. It’s always so great to see unapologetic female characters in books, and Abulhawa does a great job at that in her stories.
Another character I absolutely loved was Nur, a member of the family that grows up in the United States. Whereas Nazmiyeh’s timeline depicts Palestinians’ lives in Gaza and the way they adjust to life after the Nakba, Nur’s story depicts the lives of Palestinians in exile. Nur is born and raised in the United States, and lives with her grandfather, Nazmiyeh’s younger brother Mamdouh. There was so much of her story that I related to that at one point I even had to put the book down and take a breather because it was all getting so overwhelming. Reading about her relationship with her grandfather was so heartwarming but also so heartbreaking that, weeks later, I still find myself at a loss for words to describe how it made me feel. At this moment, the only way I think I can describe it is that it was devastatingly beautiful.
“Only Allah can know the unknown, but if Beit Daras does not surrender, this land will rise again, even if the war is lost.”
The Blue Between Sky and Water covers many different aspects of Palestinians’ lives and what they go through; displacement, exile, abuse and torture, rape, nostalgia, helplessness. But it also covers important things such as hope and reunion. Throughout the book, the characters go through many hardships and face brutal challenges – but there is always hope and that is something that makes this book so good. The characters always have this hope of returning to Beit Daras one day, even if it takes generations – and as readers, we can’t help but hope they do.
I recommend The Blue Between Sky and Water to everyone who wants to read a book about Palestine.
trigger warnings: rape, violence, death, pedophilia