Home » Palestine » Rabai al-Madhoun كونشرتو الهولوكوست والنكبة (رواية، (Fractured Destinies)

Rabai al-Madhoun: كونشرتو الهولوكوست والنكبة (رواية، (Fractured Destinies)

The Arabic title of the book translates literally as Destinies: A Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba. Both titles seem a bit complicated but do cover what this book (as well as many other Palestinian novels) is about

Julie Littlehouse is the daughter of an Englishman who had served in the British army during the British mandate in Palestine and an Armenian woman, Ivana Ardakian Littlehouse, who was born and bred in Palestine. She is marries to Walid, a writer of Palestinian origin, probably based, at least in part, on the author. Julie, Ivana and Walid all live in England.

One day Julie and Walid are summoned to an extremely private dinner with Ivana. When they arrive there are two other couples there. Ivana proceeds to talk about her life, some of which they knew, and tells them her complicated request as to what should happen to her remains after her death, which takes place soon after.

Ivana was from Acre and it was to there that Julie and Walid, with two friends, headed first. They visit the house of Ivana’s parents, who disowned their daughter once she married an Englishman. However, Walid’s family was also from Acre and they visit the house his family lived in. They even knock at the door and are shown round by the current occupant. They do not plan to leave her ashes there (Poor Mama Ivana, she was another resident of Acre who died a stranger ) but, at Ivana’s request, in Jerusalem. However we get an interesting tour of Acre and Julie is so impressed that she wants to move there.

Meanwhile we are also following the story of Jinin, a Palestinian novelist related to Wadid, who lives in Jaffa. She is married to Basim, a Palestinian who has a US passport but cannot get a visa to work in Israel. He helps an elderly Jewish neighbour, a painter, called Bat Tzion (he refuses to use the hated surname) and, like his wife, writes. The advantage of having writers as characters is that we can see their work as well and we do. Jinin is writing a novel about a man called The Remainer(real name Abu Filastin) , i.e., after the Nakba he remained in Palestine. Basim’s stories seem to be about violence to women. He rather overoptimistically predicts Israel will no longer be Israel. Israel is just a passing phase in the history of Palestine.

The Remainer is based on the real life story ofJinin’s father, Mahmoud Dahman, though clearly he has something of Basim in him. The Remainer has stayed on in Palestine and seems to manage well with his Jewish neighbours, particularly Aviva who dies twice and whose husband left her and whose adult children moved away. His relationship witjh Aviva is reminiscent of Basim and Bat.

Mahmoud (the real one) is criticised for staying in Israel though others support him saying too many Palestinians crawl toward Sweden and Denmark instead though the fictitious Remainer criticises his father for leaving saying Father, if you leave, you’ll never come back. Mahmoud is praised for having spat in the face of David Ben-Gurion.

We gradually learn more about Walid and Jinin and their extended family and Walid and Jinin finally meet and they learn about their scattered family. On their arrival in Israel, as they do not want their passport stamped (which would hinder their travel inArab countries), they are taken away for questioning. The person also waiting before them gives Walid a his Arabic newspaper when he lives which features an article on our author, Rabai al-Madhoun, and Walid is convinced the man is Al-Madhoun himself.

They all seem to get around and we jump from place to place and also in time. We go back to Walid’s time in Russia (as a communist) and then we get a guided tour of Jerusalem as seen from the Palestinian perspective when Walid and Julie go there to leave Ivana’s ashes. Indeed we get a guided tour of various parts of the country as seen from the Palestinian perspective.

There is no question that Walid and Julie are both taken with the county and even consider buying land from an Israeli development company, which used to belong to Walid’s family.

This is a somewhat different novel from other Palestinian novels in that, while we do see some of the horrors of the Israeli occupation, we see various characters wanting to return, including Ivana after her death, but Walid and Julie and others, including our author, who are still very much alive.

The other interesting feature is some of the characters writing novels/stories and, in the case of Jinin, writing a novel about very real characters and then following how the novel diverges from the real life story which, at times, makes things complicated.

The other difference is that, at least in some cases, the Jews and Palestinians get on. This is particularly the case with with the Remainer, both the real and the fictitious one. There are, of course, also clashes between the two.

If you can get to grips with the both the geographic and temporal jumping around, this is certainly a fascinating and somewhat different take on the Palestinian situation.

Publishing history

First published in 2015 by al-Mu’assasa
First English translation in 2018 by Hoopoe
Translated by Paul Starkey