The Palestinian Novel from 1948 to the Present

By Parr, Nora | Arab Studies Journal, Fall 2019 | Go to article overview

The Palestinian Novel from 1948 to the Present


Parr, Nora, Arab Studies Journal


THE PALESTINIAN NOVEL FROM 1948 TO THE PRESENT Bashir Abu-Manneh Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016 (225 pages) $25.99 (paper)

Bashir Abu-Manneh's new volume The Palestinian Novel from 1948 to the Present traces the aesthetic development of four canonical Palestinian writers across some forty years of political upheaval and dispersion. It explores the intricate links between text and context, and how the aesthetic development of a field takes place through the myriad feedback loops connecting an author's moral/political position to their socio-political landscape. Its aim is to "chart the relationship between history and aesthetic form, and show how it has changed [in Palestinian writing] since 1948" (3). The book is organized around the aesthetic development of four authors, tracing style and change in the oeuvres of Jabra Ibrahim Jabra (1919-94), Ghassan Kanafani (1936-72), Emile Habibi (1922-96), and Sahar Khalifeh (b.1941), respectively. The dedicated chapters show how Jabra, Kanafani, Habibi and Khalifeh's works begin as realist (in the Lukacsian sense of presenting real historical conditions) and move toward a largely Adorno-style modernism. Abu-Manneh finds that for each of the writers both "realism and modernism are adapted to Palestinian conditions in order to help understand ... signifiNora cant literary shifts and emergences" (3). A coda chapter, "Tonalities of Defeat and Palestinian Modernism" consolidates findings from each author and, using the prism of Theodore Adorno, suggests that the Palestinian novel has innovated its own unique modernism. This Palestinian Modernism, he argues, holds sway well beyond Palestinian letters, and to prove it, the book offers a short reading in an epilogue chapter on Lebanese writer Elias Khoury's Gate of the Sun-a novel about Palestine and the Nakba.

The Palestinian Novel from 1948 to the Present is a study of realism, modernism, and aesthetics in Palestinian fiction, carried out through close and contextualized reading of key works in the Palestinian literary canon. The operating logic of the work is Palestinian modernism. The works covered, published between 1955 and 1998, cover the decades in which literature from the global south most intensely grappled with realism and modernism as styles of expression. Modernism also provides a concrete rationale for the authors considered (all authors discussed were born on or before 1948, and their literary careers solidly began as European realism turned to modernism). Modernism as an overarching frame also explains why the politico-cultural crisis that followed the post-Oslo period is not touched on.

Abu-Manneh's project makes a fundamental leap in thinking about Palestinian literature. First, and crucially, his focus on Palestinian literary responses to lived conditions may be the first book-length study of the field to de-center the nation as a frame of reading Palestinian novels. As AbuManneh argues, writing on Palestinian fiction tends to "over-determine the novel by nation" (11); he seeks to carve a place for Palestine outside the "narrowly national" (13) and read "right through it [the nation] as a politics of liberation and decolonization" (13). To decouple Palestinian literary criticism from the national frame is a powerful move. Indeed, the novel form and nation-state-style nationalism (or the imagined community, with its bounded space and linear time) are almost indelibly linked. Instead of reading the novels into an understanding of the nation, Abu-Manneh reads works out of the national and into literary theory. The first practical consequence of this is the broad geography of Palestinian locations that are included in the book. In reading how the historic conditions of the four authors shaped their writing, the reader gets a glimpse of how diverse realities of life in the West Bank (pre- and post-1967), Ba'athist Iraq, Mandate Palestine, refugee camps in Lebanon, and today's Israel influence personal politics and approaches to literature. …

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