I bought Ghada Karmi's memoir, In Search of Fatima: A Palestine Story, several years back when a Goodreads group I follow was planning on reading it together. Unfortunately I have let my GR membership lapse somewhat and I have not checked in with that reading group in ages, but it was the first inspiration for me and the jumping off place to begin investigating books about the Middle East or by authors from the region. Then I took a couple of Israeli Literature classes and I was well and truly hooked. It was just a matter of time before I began reading about the region in earnest, and I hope this is the start of a new reading 'love affair' for me.
Ghada Karmi's memoir was originally published in 2002, but the events she writes about ended some ten years before this particular edition. She is an excellent writer and it is easy to get caught up in her memories. She was born in Palestine but emigrated to England with her family in 1948 after the start of the (what you call it depends on which perspective--) War of Independence/1948 Palestine War. At the end of the British Mandate the United Nations settled on a partition of lands, but the ensuing war redefined the territories leaving Israel with more land than initially they were given (and sorry if this is a terribly simplistic description--it's all very complicated to me).
I've only just started reading the first section titled "Palestine" about her life (she was born in 1939) living in the Qatamon neighborhood of Jerusalem. The memoir, I think, will perhaps be about the politics of the region, but more so about the personal. Karmi is writing from her own vantage point and if she has an agenda, it has less to do with right or wrong, but everything to do with giving a voice to the people who lost everything in 1948. So far, when she writes, she talks about her family, her beloved Fatima who was a village woman who helped care for the house and children against the backdrop of life in Palestine. The memoir will eventually move on to England, but for now it is very interesting to get a taste for what life was like there.
I have been especially struck by Karmi's memories of the embroidered clothes that Fatima wore.
"At the time of my childhood in Jerusalem, no woman who was not a peasant would have been seen dead in such a caftan [Fatima wore the traditional dress--a caftan with panels of embroidery], however beautifully embroidered. Middle-class women like my mother were keen on the latest fashions coming from Europe, as portrayed in Egyptian films."
"No one then could have known that after the loss of Palestine in 1948 this despised peasant costume would become a symbol of the homeland, worn with pride by the very same women who had previously spurned it. In exile, it became obligatory for each Palestinian woman to have her own caftan and to show it off at public functions."
It is the cultural and social aspects I find the most intriguing, though all the historical and political bits are added to whatever details I have gleaned from my other reading. As always with nonfiction, there is so much information that I am not sure how much I will take with me, but certainly all the personal stories will linger long in my mind I hope.
So, the first of what I hope will be many (many more in 2017) books about the Middle East I am looking forward to reading. Eventually I will share a list of books I have acquired and have on hand (and likely a few more on my wishlist). I am happy to start with a memoir, though, as it is always good to get the personal perspective and hopefully over time I will get many different vantage points, too.