BOOK REVIEW: Growing up in the open air prison called Gaza

29th Aug 2014

Out Of It. By Selma Dabbagh. Bloomsbury. London. pp312. £12.99

Growing up is hard enough…but growing up in the open air prison called Gaza comes with a whole new set of challenges. The novel is centred on the Mujahed family, originally from Jaffa [now part of Israel], now returned from Tunis, Beirut and Scandinavia, and at the novel’s opening are residing in Gaza in the early years of the second intifada (2000).

The family consists of three siblings; Rasheed, Imaan and Sabri. What unites yet divides them is how they each deal with the daily occupation of their homeland by Israel. Keep in mind resistance is in the Mujahed blood.

Rasheed uses his marijuana plant ‘Gloria’ to transport him ‘out of’ the warzone he calls home even if it’s only for a few hours. However, a scholarship in London gives him a more permanent escape from the turmoil. Imaan, his twin sister, is a staunch feminist trying to bring change to Palestine peacefully; but after multiple failed attempts and her student being blown up by Israeli airstrikes she finds herself attracted to more forceful organisations such as Hamas: “Deaths of children changed everything. Resistance movements started with dead children.”

Sabri, the eldest of them all, is a cripple, he not only lost his two legs to the brutality of the Israeli Defence Force but also his wife and six month year old son. What unites the siblings is the responsibility they feel towards their motherland – but their approach towards it divides them. The reader witnesses all of them struggle with their evolving identities. What’s more important – Palestine’s freedom or their own?

The everyday plight of the Palestinian people is often overlooked, but this novel transports you to a small, noisy, first floor apartment in one of the most dangerous cities on earth. The novel dissects daily life in Gaza; one learns about the hardships that come with food rations, how difficult it is to be disabled in a war-zone and the danger that comes with going to school.

Selma Dabbagh uses the novel as a platform to bring attention to the brutality Palestinians face daily. One incident that resonates throughout the novel is the humiliation Palestinians face at checkpoints especially when trying to leave Israel. Dabbagh’s graphic description is a chilling reality.

Out of it is a complex novel and due to the intricacy of the plot line at times the narration becomes static and the plot confusing. Although slow at first the novel picks up and jumps between London, Palestine and The Gulf. I would recommend this book to anyone curious to know about the daily struggle of the Palestinians in Gaza.

Selma Dabbagh goes beyond the news headlines and reveals a harsh yet compelling portrait of what life in Gaza is like. This debut novel makes a captivating, evocative and heart-lurching read. What’s most surprising is that Dabbagh manages to maintain the theme of hope throughout. The book’s abrupt ending leads the reader to question, when will the world wake up?

Aliya Padhani

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