Susan Muaddi Darraj – University of Massachusetts Press (2015)
The characters in “A Curious Land” are going to be with me for a long time. Why?
Susan Muaddi Darraj’s writing is more than mere words. She blows life into each Palestinian in her fictional West Bank village of Tel al-Hilou.
Beginning in 1916, the reader follows the journey of Palestinians through time and place, from the miraculous discovery and rebirth of a Bedouin man who had been taken hostage by the Turks and then left for dead — through the next 4 or 5 generations who survived (and some who didn’t) the Nakba, the 1967 war, the intifada — up to 1998 with the return of one Palestinian-American to the village of her youth. She returns in person, and in spirit, reunited with all of the family who came before her.
In 2014, her short story collection, A Curious Land: Stories from Home, was named the winner of the AWP Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction, judged by Jaime Manrique. The book was published in December 2015 by the University of Massachusetts Press. It also won the 2016 Arab American Book Award, a 2016 American Book Award, and was shortlisted for a Palestine Book Award.
Susan Muaddi Darraj‘s gift of story-telling has been recognized by many, but I think it’s best described as a writer stepping aside and letting the characters tell their story. She holds the pen but they hold the dreams and fears that must be shared authentically. She succeeds and I imagine that Rabab, Salma, Amira, Adlah and all the others are sitting somewhere drinking a cup of tea and nodding their heads approvingly.
I highly recommend A Curious Land – Stories from Home.
A Curious Land humanizes a political situation, offering the reader a way to understand the steady settlement activity of the Israeli occupation through the eyes and ears of the inhabitants of the villagers. The human toll of occupation, the struggle of everyday people who emigrate for safety and security, and the families they leave behind – all are vividly brought to life in this collection.