Mornings in Jenin

Susan Abulhawa’s novel Mornings in Jenin was originally published under the title The Scar of David by Journeys Press that soon after went out of business.  Hard enough as it is to write a novel, find a publisher, and look forward to readers, it is downright traumatic to watch your book disappear like this. Only Abulhawa’s novel did not disappear and I quote from her Author’s Note

…that went out of business shortly thereafter. But in the meantime, it was translated into French and published by Editions Buchet/Chastel under the title ‘Les matins de Jenine.’ And it was through Marc Parent, my wonderful editor at Buchet/Chastel, that Anna Soler-Pont, of Pontas Literary and Film Agency, became my agent two years after the original publication. From there, Anna began breathing new life into this novel. As a result of her efforts, the story was translated into twenty languages and Bloomsbury offered to release it again in English. I am immensely grateful to Anna and to Bloomsbury for this second chance. In particular, I wish to thank Alexandra Pringle, who believed in this story enough to take it on under such unusual circumstances.

Yes thank you Anna and Alexandra because I of course read Mornings in Jenin in English. Though Abulhawa’s own family was turned upside down because of the Palestine-Israeli conflict, and though Mornings in Jenin is a family saga spanning six decades, from the 1940s to 200s, it is not autobiographical although it is a parable for Palestine: what it was, who it ‘belongs’ to, and what it has become. 

In the first few chapters, which mesmerize with their lyricism, Abulhawa introduces the Palestinian Hasan, the Bedouin  Dalia, and the Jewish Ari, characters whose essence is going to reverberate throughout the story no matter what decade it is. As their children have children have children, Abulhawa weaves an expert narrative of how politics changes the land and friendships and how, in these changing landscapes, people live, merely survive, or die.

The original title The Scar of David refers to a heart breaking episode with a meaning sure to haunt the reader long after the novel is read.  The new title Mornings in Jenin though less heartbreaking is no less symbolic and powerful. (The main difference between titles, I feel, is while the new has positive connotations while the original is seeped in tragedy. Abulhawa has successfully been evenhanded between her Palestinian and Jewish characters, but make no mistake, this is a story about Palestine and Palestinians, their plight, a plight which continues to this day. But this is in no way an anti-semitic novel and the fact that I feel I must make this point is sad. In fact for readers looking for the other side of the story, if you will, ‘Mornings in Jenin’ is the perfect novel to read: taut and powerful without being didactic or melodramatic. For both sides of the story I suggest  Mornings in Jenin in conjunction with Leon Uris’ seminal novel about Israel, Exodus.  Please make time to read the novel ‘Mornings in Jenin’. It will make you cry. It will make you laugh. It will certainly make you think. An excellent book club novel.