The Blue Between Sky and Water
Copy courtesy Bloomsbury ANZ/TheReadingRoom.com
It is 1948 in Beit Daras, a village in Palestine where a family live. Nazmiyeh is the oldest daughter and she takes care of their mother, a woman prone to wandering the village and at times, behaving strangely. Mamdouh works for the village beekeeper and has his eye on the beekeeper’s daughter. Youngest daughter Mariam spends her days with her imaginary friends, learning to write.
And then the Israeli forces roll in and no one could imagine the terror and chaos that would unfold. They are forced to flee their small village as the Israeli forces bomb and burn it, raping the women and shooting the men. The survivors walk to long road to Gaza where a refugee camp has been set up. There they live in tents, the men either leaving to work in Egypt or another neighbouring country in construction, or fishing the Mediterranean. Rations are in force, meaning that many items must be smuggled through the tunnels from Cairo. Always there is the ever present thread of the Israelis who take the men prisoner and restrict visitor access. Nazmiyeh births many sons as she waits for the daughter to arrive that she must give the name her sister Mariam asked of her. Mamdouh moves away, first to Iran to work in construction and then later on to America, for the chance of a new life.
Many years later, Mamdouh’s granddaughter Nur, who has never been to Palestine or met the rest of her family, follows a married man she loves there, having heard of a child experiencing ‘locked in’ syndrome, something that interests her in her work as a psychologist specialising in traumatised children. Through this boy Nur will finally meet the rest of her family and discover the true bond of her heritage in a land far from where she grew up, but that has become to feel like home.
It’s funny, up until this week I hadn’t read anything for Shannon’s Around the World in 12 Books Challenge and now the way that the TBR has fallen, I’ve read 3 books in a row that count towards it, a book set in the Norwegian Sea, this book set in formerly Palestine/Gaza and another book with a review coming next week set in South Africa during the 50s. I have to admit, I didn’t know what this was about when it arrived, but I chose to pick it up for the cover as well. Discovering that it was about the displacement of Palestinians around the time of the creation of the nation of Israel only furthered my interest. I wrote many papers during my PoliSci/International Relations degree on the Middle Eastern conflict – I suspect most of my lecturers probably got sick of reading hundreds of papers on the same topics but there is so much fodder in this area it’s hard to ignore.
The Blue Between Water and Sky spans several generations of the same family and their struggle with separation and disconnect after being driven from their village in 1948. They and thousands of others are forced to relocate to Gaza, an impossibly small strip of land on the sea which borders Egypt and the newly-created Israel. Life in what is basically a refugee camp can be bleak with a lack of jobs and resources. Israel restrict the flow of goods and services into the country and heavily man the borders, forcing many of the citizens to resort to smuggling in goods through tunnels dug (and blown up and dug again) to Egypt. The tunnels are often worked by children, their small statures required to sneak in and out of the restricted spaces. The men that don’t leave Gaza to work in construction in Egypt or other nearby countries work fishing boats although the Israelis control the waters and occasionally attack without warning. The women remain in the camps, some culturing gardens, others working as midwives to deliver the babies, the rest taking care of their families and wondering when the day will come when they can go home and be reunited with those family members that have been forced elsewhere. I do feel as though this book gave a very good insight into what it must’ve been liked for these displaced people, suffering through overcrowding, lack of jobs and basic food (due to the rations and restrictions imposed by those controlling the borders) and the ability they developed to be utterly self-reliant for everything. Throughout the story there is a bit of a magical realism element to do with djinn’s (among other things) that could be a little bit jarring at times.
The more modern-day story focusing on Mamdouh’s granddaughter Nur was incredibly heartbreaking, the sort of thing that makes you wonder how people go on. Nur showed remarkable resilience despite all that happened to her in her young life and despite never having been to visit her family in the Middle East a remarkable set of circumstances bring her home to where they now live in Gaza. Although Nur is happy to have a family at last after so many years alone, she was essentially raised in America and there are situations that she finds herself in which is really quite unacceptable to the Palestinian women in the local community, which will also reflect back upon her family. I was rather interested reading about a woman who had grown up in a different country with a very different general culture and then moving to the Middle East however the book didn’t really delve too deeply into this which was a little disappointing. I do think that the differences would be incredibly noticeable and it would be unusual not to be affected, even if it was just something like the intermittent electricity supply. Constant power is something we probably tend to take for granted in places like Australia and America but still in the present timeframe, an elderly Nazmiyeh watches her TV soap while the power is still on.
Despite the fact that some of the more magical elements of the story weren’t really to my taste, I did really enjoy this book and was quite drawn into the story of these people and their displacement, separation and ultimate reunion. I’d love to read more books set in this particular area covering these types of conflict and the author does have another which I’ll be doing my best to track down.
Book #110 of 2015
The Blue Between Sky and Water is the 2nd book completed for the Around the World in 12 Books Challenge. This story covered the former Palestine and the Gaza Strip.