Translated from the Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger, this bestselling semi-autobiographical novel, Let it be Morning* by famed 30-year old Israeli-Arab journalist Sayed Kashua, exhibits a haunting and highly-disturbing narrative, comprising a series of political events that revolve around one reporter's brooding introspection of modern day Israel. Rude awakenings promise to seal the character's changed identity permanently and without consent.
It is the unnamed character's shock at seeing his township being rapidly stripped away of its familiar Arabic history and territorial links with Israel, that the reader must reluctantly come to terms with.
In the wake of a secretive and frightening roadblock by the Israeli army lasting days, where even electricity and water supplies have been cut off; the insignificant village with no previous drama to be mirrored to the world either than petty squabbles; is now sacrificed in a matter of days to the Palestinian authority. The cold affair is seen on world news. Lands that for many years, were held under Jewish jurisdiction are given away with no questions asked and no consultations made beforehand.
The ambitious arab reporter cherishing his Israeli citizenship works with a big newspaper in Tel Aviv as one of its senior writers. However, with the sharp rise of extremist groups designed to provoke terrorist activity, the reporter is himself swiftly subjected to humiliation and snide remarks. Attitudes change overnight as a long camaraderie with Jewish colleagues turn sour. The narrator of the story fails dismally in his every effort to retain ties with the snobbish.
Ugly graffiti comments on his apartment building, finally convinces the young man to return with his wife, a teacher and their baby daughter to what he wrongly assumes to be the safe confines of his hometown; an arab hamlet, deep in the heart of Israel. Instead, the plan backfires and with an imminent threat of war, the character is faced with a nasty change determined to seek out familiar lifestyles in his old hometown. In the midst of it all, the character chooses to brave a false embarassing front deciding to tell no one that in all probability, he has as good as lost his job.
It doesn't help that his marriage with his bride a trained teacher, is also on the rocks. Family ties hold them together in the storm of this personal calamity and the marriage through one wounding event after another, ironically mends itself.
What makes the story flow as beautifully as the soft welcoming sounds of running water is its skilled structure and deep probing reflections. The character searches his life from boyhood and describes without flinching; the messy confusion that descends on a calm society when the village finds itself without the necessary utilities. Ignorance of actual daily events on the national front, keeps everyone in the dark. A battery pumped-up radio may be a settler's only solace for news. Kashua describes the primitive desperation and panic that comes with a major food shortage - the sort that rob dignity and sanity and eventually gives way to theft, thugs and lootings. He aptly lays discomfort for the reader and may trigger a conscience without effort.
Spoken in the first person, Kashua through his character offers sharpened insights on what the media fails to show the rest of the world. This of how Arab communities in different states and countries view each other with all the usual banter that is heaped upon the subject of accents, traditions and rituals. The majority of jokes in the novel are afforded to those in the West Bank. While there is sympathy for what is seen on the news, there are also comic exclamations.
The reader is also shown through painful detail, of how thousands of innocent Arabs are often caught up in the troubles caused by a few. And of how fear in the name of survival; makes enemies out of friends and neighbours. Such observations were especially evident in Jung Chang's Wild Swans which described the Mao revolution where neighbours spied on and in Kashua's story at least, clawed at and stoned each other. And of how easily jobs were lost and education disrupted. Or perhaps too, the strange forms of entertainment that each individual would choose to prey upon, to pass his time.
There were those who preferred to stay in denial while others demanded to be kept updated with the truth which would subsequently be brandished about as the perfect weapon; in which to furiously let anger spill out through mutterings and curses long afterwards.
Besides, almost everyone had a political opinion. Plus, the fear of death would ressurect itself like a looming nimbus cloud at the sound of a single shot or the otherwise, eerie prospect of a military shelling exercise. Then there were the many wives, mothers and aunts who would applaud a soothing wisdom with their hometruths.
I will not forget this story to be sure. It was tender and fragile but with a plot so enormously strong, one could feel nothing but empathy for the character and his people. The kind of empathy that tugged and tore at the heartstrings. This story cannot be faulted. In its underlying description of truth where pain was pictured as real and raw, I found no shortcomings. None at all.
* Let it be Morning by Sayed Kashua was nominated for the 2008 International IMPAC Literary Award. Sayed Kashua was born in 1975 in the Galilee and studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He writes a weekly column for Ha'aretz, Israel's most prestigious newspaper.
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