The human heart is made of the words we put in it”. These are the poignant words uttered at the most pivotal of moments in the new novel by Susan Abulhawa. The Blue Between Sky and Water is a courageous new book which tells a complex tale of varied perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza. It begins at the start of the 20th century and ends in the current modern era of conflict between the two peoples.
The book centres on the traumatic experiences of the Muslim Palestinian Baraka family, who are forced to leave their idyllic village of Beit Daras after the invasion of Israeli-Jewish soldiers. They flee to a refugee camp on the Southern shores of Gaza in 1948.
As well as the displacement of the Muslim population from this small Palestinian village, the story covers moving and important topics related to war, such as love, hatred, loss, death, and rape. The latter is described in a horrifyingly vivid and violent scene in which Nazmiyeh, one of the most significant characters, is raped repeatedly by multiple Jewish-Israeli soldiers upon the invasion of Beit Daras.
The novel is split into two halves, with the majority of the story set in the refugee camp in Gaza. The second half focuses on Nur Valdez, who is part of the extended Baraka family. Although she is born in America, she moves to Gaza to live with her aunt. This gives the conflict, that the reader is by now familiar with, a sense of a fresh perspective, bringing in new themes such as identity and personal appropriation.
Perhaps most notable in the story is Khaled, the 10-year-old cousin of Nur,. The character marks the connection between the harmonious days in peaceful Beit Daras and the sense of displacement, loss, and confusion in the modern conflict zone of Gaza.
The poetry of his language gives his words a sense of spirituality and his voice is heard before he is born, and after his death. He exists in the figurative, metaphysical space – the blue space between sky and water which is highlighted in the title of the novel.
New stories are always being told in this novel. With the exchange of prisoners between the Palestinians and Israelis in 2011, a love story is launched between Nur and a newly released prisoner. The novel’s success lies in its many dimensions and its intricate complexity. This reflects the fragility of human spirit and its relationship with war.
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