This review appeared in the Guardian.
The Mujaheds, if somewhat more privileged than their neighbours, are a typically itinerant Palestinian family who have learnt to attach sentimental value “only to the small things, the ones that could be thrown into suitcases and scurried away with.” Originally from Jaffa, now returned from Tunis, Beirut and Scandinavia, the novel’s opening finds them living in Gaza in the early years of the second intifada.
One of the many strengths of Selma Dabbagh’s writing is its unerringly precise sense of place. Gaza, imagined from inside with the mental aid of satellite images, is “like dried-out coral, ridged, chambered and sandy.” It contrasts with Israel, “the other side, that side, the place they came from, that had been theirs,” which, studded by solar panels, swimming pools and irrigated fields, looks from above like “an elaborate blanket of modernist design.”
Life in the Mujahed apartment, between the noise of nearby families and the louder noise of warplanes and helicopters, may be like “camping under a flyover”, but it’s better than living in tents as the neighbours – refugees from house demolitions – are forced to do.
The details of dispossession and siege are relentlessly accumulated: the rotting flowers and fruit blocked off from the market by the ‘closure’, the targetted killings, incursions and arbitrary arrests, as well as the increasingly violent internal competition between the religious parties and the corrupt Palestinian Authority whose luminaries are “yearning for cheap suits and desks with name plaques.”