The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa

As today, May the 15th marks the day of Nakba (the catastrophe) and the 1948 exodus of Palestinians from their ancestral homeland, now seems a good time to review Susan Abulhawa’s latest novel, The Blue Between Sky and Water. Set in Palestine, it follows the lives of the Baraka family from Beit Daras to Gaza. In the wake of exile, as the family disperse across the world, a beautiful story of kinship and fractured roots unravels through the novel’s main female characters Nazmiyeh and Nur. It is a composite story of resilience and strength in the face of dispossession and humiliation underpinned by the Palestinian quest for freedom. Nazmiyeh, the matriarch at the heart of this novel is in many ways the embodiment of that resistance made flesh. She is strong, defiant, fiercely protective, poised in the face of tragedy and instantly likeable. Abulhawa’s attention to detail is arresting in this inherently strong female book. Through her dazzling characterisation, she writes with a strong sense of autobiography that establishes a relationship with a cultural past that transcends time, boundaries and language and is in many ways reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Her language, evocative and moving, exudes an emotional truth that is deeply affecting and will stir even the sternest of hearts.
Written from a mixed perspective, Abulhawa’s prose is rich, verbose and powerful, but for me it is the employment of the first person stream of consciousness that is crucial to the ownership and currency of this story. There is an interdependency between Palestine’s past and its brutal present that is having a devastating impact on future generations of Palestinians who have only known conflict and that to ‘die naturally is a blessing’. Nazmiyeh’s grandson, Khaled’s voice is a ubiquitous reminder of this ongoing violation of life, childhood and the right to live in peace. By chronicling the personal histories and the entrenched sense of dignity, endurance and the humanity of the Palestinian people that is so often overlooked, the depravity of occupation becomes shockingly clear. Abulhawa highlights this deftly, peppering her prose with references to real life witnesses and atrocities. She quotes Chris Hedges, the heroic Dr Madz Gilbert and pays heart breaking homage to Rachel Corrie, the American peace activist whose story is familiar to western audiences and cherished by Palestinians.
For me this is historical fiction of the highest order, interspersed with the tale are references to Palestinian fisherman shot at sea and children shot at ‘for sport’ that will have you guiltily scanning your mind for stories glossed over then forgotten in much of the western world. And yet, perhaps, Abulhawa does not absolve herself from this shameful voyeurism, ‘westerners came and went all the time on poverty and war tours just to go back and write books’, but what differentiates Abulhawa is her courage. The Blue Between Sky and Water is a brave and inspiring novel of forbearance and hope, reclaiming and preserving the cultural wealth of Palestine. Abulhawa writes with passion and honesty to create a profound retelling of the personal histories of her people in this epic multi-generational tale of loss, love and humanity.

2 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s