Book love stories

By

Whilst Valentines day is the annually anticipated celebration of love and all things romantic, this year, it seems unnatural to celebrate love in the current context of despair. In light of current events, the title of Palestinian author Adania Shibli’s second novel ‘We are all equally far from love’  (كلنا بعيد بطات المقدار من الحب), as cynical as it is, could not be more fitting as we approach Valentine’s day this year. 

Shibli’s novel weaves several interconnected narratives and characters, each exploring themes of love, isolation and the complexities of relationships. The first voice, ‘Afaf’ exchanges letters with a man with whom she falls in love, despite never physically meeting him. When she unexpectedly stops receiving letters, she returns to her former feelings of isolation. We then encounter a plethora of other narratives; an adolescent who opens others’ private love letters, a depressed married woman concealing a love-affair with a doctor who leaves her, a lonely supermarket worker searching for romance, a heartbroken man fantasising about murdering the woman who rejected him. This mixture of anguished, lost subjectivities produces an overarching atmosphere of alienation and ambivalence. Whilst the news headlines and explicit references to geography are absent, this absence fiercely demands our attention. 

“Shibli’s novel weaves several interconnected narratives and characters, each exploring themes of love, isolation and the complexities of relationships”

‘We are equally far from love’ conjures several poignant images and metaphors for the current tragedies faced by Palestinians. The character Afaf’s father owns a post office: 

Afaf’s main task in he post office was to open and read the letters, then inform her father of the contents. A certain person originally from the quarter who now lived in America also sometimes sent letters addressed to his family in ‘Palestine’, which she had to erase and replace with ‘Israel’ (20)

Firstly, through Afaf’s ‘task’, Shibli illustrates the omnipresence of surveillance and inextricably, Shibli’s recognition of ‘the colonial obsession to clean’ within the settler-colonial state. This act of erasure of the word ‘Palestine’ and replacement with ‘Israel’ is the only mention of place-names throughout the entire novel. Naming, as Shibli herself has repeatedly stated in interviews, is an inherently political act. According to Edward Saïd, in a context where Palestine, its culture and identity are threatened with erasure, writing, saying or reading ‘Palestine’ constitutes a means of resistance. This act of enforced erasure leads us to question what it means to see an intimate relationship with your homeland severed and fractured. What it means to love a place, a culture and a people so deeply, but be denied access to it, physically, mentally and spiritually. 

Whilst it is easy to read the overarching, almost suffocating isolation and loneliness in relation to the ignorance and silence of the international community, I think that it is equally important to consider the way the book allows us to reflect upon love, as Nora Parr puts it, as ‘coherence’ in a context of fragmentation. Shibli invites us to ponder love and its many manifestations, its failures, its presence and absence and essentially depicts the capacity for love to disrupt colonial narratives. 

“Shibli invites us to ponder love and its many manifestations, its failures, its presence and absence and essentially depicts the capacity for love to disrupt colonial narratives”

For Adania Shibli, nothing compares to her love for her language, Arabic. In several interviews, the writer has described her function as a  writer is to serve as a vehicle for these Arabic words she loves so deeply. She has identified the situation of the Palestinians as the ‘opposite’ to Scheherazade in 1001 nights; in order to survive they must remain silent as even that the mere act of speaking Arabic in Israel is fraught with danger. Whilst Shibli’s book is accessible in translation, we can’t help but feel the original Arabic pervade the pages. The translation constantly draws our focus to the original. Whilst the interwoven stories of the  protagonists suggest alienation and failure in their quests for love, Shibli’s unbreakable love for language is perceptible and constant. 

Image: David Wheelan via Creative Commons

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.