A Young Palestinian's Diary, 1941-1945: The Life of Sami 'Amr

A Young Palestinian's Diary, 1941-1945: The Life of Sami 'Amr

A Young Palestinian's Diary, 1941-1945: The Life of Sami 'Amr

A Young Palestinian's Diary, 1941-1945: The Life of Sami 'Amr

Synopsis

Writing in his late teens and early twenties, Sami'Amr gave his diary an apt subtitle:The Battle of Life, encapsulating both the political climate of Palestine in the waning years of the British Mandate as well as the contrasting joys and troubles of family life. Now translated from the Arabic, Sami's diary represents a rare artefact of turbulent change in the Middle East. Written over four years, these ruminations of a young man from Hebron brim with revelations about daily life against a backdrop of tremendous transition. Describing the public and the private, the modern and the traditional, Sami muses on relationships, his station in life, and other universal experiences while sharing numerous details about a pivotal moment in Palestine's modern history. Making these never-before-published reflections available in translation, Kimberly Katz also provides illuminating context for Sami's words, laying out biographical details of Sami, who kept his diary private for close to sixty years. One of a limited number of Palestinian diaries available to English-language readers, the diary of Sami'Amr bridges significant chasms in our understanding of Middle Eastern, and particularly Palestinian, history.

Excerpt

This book emerges out of a chance meeting I had with the diarist’s eldest son, Samīr ʿAmr, and his wife on an airplane en route to Jordan in 1999. The few words I exchanged with a flight attendant in Arabic precipitated the opportunity to work on this rare diary, as Samīr’s interest in my Arabic-language abilities led to a conversation on the airplane and then to many more by email, over the course of several years, about the history and politics of Palestine and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It was about five years before Samīr and I met again, in ʿAmman, when he invited me for mansef with his family, at which time he showed me his father’s World War II–era diary and asked my professional opinion on its historical value. Consumed with completing a book about Jerusalem during the 1948–1967 period, I looked briefly at the handwritten manuscript, which had been preserved well for sixty years, and recognized that it was of great value to the twentieth-century history of Palestine, beyond the familial value it held for Sāmī’s descendants. Delighted with the rare source, I enthusiastically accepted his offer to work on his father’s diary.

Not able to begin working on it then, I had the diary transcribed into an electronic format without being fully aware of the complexities that such a transcription would entail. Sāmīyya Khalaf, a Jordanian master’s student at the time, transcribed the handwritten manuscript to a typed format in Arabic that would be more manageable for me to translate and study. She could not have known that the page-by-page typing of Sāmī’s entries, as requested, would bring about confusion when I later came to translate the diary into English. I engaged in a word-by-word check between the typed transcription and the handwritten manuscript to ensure that nothing had been inadvertently omitted. Even to the native speaker and reader, Arabic handwritten manuscripts are complicated, and some passages ultimately required textual analysis and an occasional check with Samīr to verify what Sāmī had written to be able to accurately translate it.

This historical source expanded my interest in the history of Palestine, as it opened up the subset of self-literature and included research on autobiographies and memoirs in addition to diaries. Historical research on these literary genres covers different geographical regions and historical periods, requiring . . .

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