Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Giving Voice at a Price: Imagining the Arab World in the Work of Elizabeth Laird

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Giving Voice at a Price: Imagining the Arab World in the Work of Elizabeth Laird

Article excerpt

In the West, few children's and young adult (YA) books about the Arab world reflect the diversity of its cultures or the complexity of the issues it is facing. Instead, authors routinely recycle a small list of themes and topics that tend to represent the region in rather stereotypical and reductionist fashion. Given today's rising anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment, the need has never been more urgent for books that introduce young readers to the region in ways that transcend Islamophobic rhetoric. Author Elizabeth Laird has been writing children's and YA books for almost 40 years. A prolific writer, she has lived in the Arab world and visited many of its countries, including Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine. Laird's work on the region often strays from the mainstream narratives that homogenize its population. This article examines two of her books: A Little Piece of Ground and Oranges in No Man's Land. It examines the ways in which Laird's work explores the complex realities of the region without resorting to predetermined conclusions or oversimplified observations. It also shows that because of the dearth of readers who are well informed about the region, the thematic focus of Laird's work presents several challenges.

Laird's A Little Piece of Ground

In 2003, Elizabeth Laird's A Little Piece of Ground was first published by Macmillan in the UK to both critical acclaim and controversy.1 The book is written from the viewpoint of Karim, a twelve-year-old Palestinian boy who lives under Israeli occupation and who tries with his friends to fulfill the dream of turning an abandoned field into a place to play soccer. Initially, the narrative describes Karim as a teenager with typical interests, such as playing sports, competing with his older brother, and being "extremely cool."2 But as the story progresses, readers start to realize that Karim's identity as a Palestinian forbids him from leading a life with any sense of normalcy. Karim, for example, writes a list of wishes and dreams that reveals about the peculiarity of his life. While some items on the list are not particularly surprising, such as his wish to be a "[c]hampion soccer player of the entire world" or his wish to be the "[b]est-ever creator of new computer games," other items on the list are more revealing.3 For example, Karim wishes to remain alive and to exist without "being stopped all the time by Israeli soldiers."4 He even wishes not to be "shot in the back and stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of [his] life."5

These wishes are only the beginning, as the narrative proceeds to center around the daily events shaping Karim's difficult life. Under Israeli occupation, repeated and prolonged curfews are the norm. As a result, Karim is deprived of the right to move or play. His home becomes akin to a small prison, and under the constant stress affecting the family, Karim runs into arguments with his siblings. All Karim wants to do is to go outside so that he can play his favorite sport, soccer, with his friends. Finally, when the curfew is lifted, Karim is out with his friends. His favorite friend is Joni, a Christian boy whose family has been close to Karim's for a long time. Joni's presence in the narrative comes as resistance to homogenizing imaginations of the culture and as a reminder that Palestinian identity is not restricted to one religious identity. With the introduction of another boy, Hopper, the narrative expands to diversify characters on the basis of socioeconomic status as well. Hopper is from a poor family; he used to live in a refugee camp, and he has a brother in an Israeli prison.

Karim and his friend proceed to seek out a place to play a game of soccer. They find a piece of land that is the size of a soccer field, but the land needs a lot of work. There is rubble, grass, rocks, and other objects that need to be cleaned out before the field is ready. Karim and Hopper go through patches of cleaning the land and work hard on clearing out the field. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.