‘Humour has been a useful instrument to relate our pain and suffering,’ says Palestinian author Suad Amiry.
Suad Amiry is one of Palestine’s most recognised voices. Through her books, political activism and architectural conservation, she has been vocal about the life of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
Her books — Sharon and My Mother-in-law, Menopausal Palestine: Women at the Edge, Nothing to Lose but Your Life and, the latest, Golda Slept Here — have used humour to highlight the suffering of Palestinians.
She was recently awarded Italy’s prestigious Nonino Risit D’Aur prize 2014. Excerpts from a conversation:
How does it feel to win the Nonino Risit D’Aur prize 2014 for your writing, political activism and conservation work?
Being a Palestinian, it matters because it makes you realise that the world community is noticing you and your work. This prize becomes all the more important to me because I have a special relationship with Italy. I have my publishers there.
You use wit and humour in your books to highlight the various problems faced by Palestinians. Is that also how Palestinians have learnt to live with their life?
When you live in a place where one’s rights are violated every minute and one has been dehumanised, then the best way to capture humanity is by making fun of it. We live in a situation where nothing makes sense, so making fun of things/situations becomes another way of unbalancing this power game. I make light of things and situations even in my meetings with Israelis. This is the only way I can feel equal to them. Humour has been a useful instrument to relate our pain and suffering.
How did Golda Slept Here come about? What are you conveying through it?
What really triggered the idea was a demonstration organised by my friend Huda to go to West Jerusalem to see the homes that we left behind when the Israelis occupied them. We went on a silent demonstration and stood in front of those houses. I could see the owners were disturbed. It was a very moving experience and made me decide on writing this book by using other people’s stories. Huda’s story is part of the book.
This book is closest to my heart, as it revealed my emotion and anger. Even though I grew up in Jordan, I have grown up with the image of my father’s house in Jaffa. My father always talked about his house and I tried to construct the images. He even tried to visit the house once but was not allowed in by the present owners. When he returned, he was in great pain. That image is etched in my mind. Till date, I have not visited my father’s house.
The book is really about home. Everybody knows how terrible it is to lose one’s home. I find home is the foundation of stability in one’s life. Few people realise the gravity of the situation in Palestine. Even as I am talking to you, a person in Palestine is being evicted from his home.
You talk about not being able to let go of the past, being obsessed with it. How tough then it is to live in the present?
The whole issue of past and present is very interesting, especially in our case. What haunts me is the fact that Palestine occupies me always. It is extremely tiring and extremely abnormal. I would be really lucky to forget even for a minute that I am a Palestinian.
What images come to your mind when you think of ‘home’?
Every place that I have lived in comes to my mind. No one place is home. Every place is home to me, whether it is Ramallah, Damascus, New York, Mumbai ... It’s very difficult to tell where home is.
How connected are young Palestinians with their past? Like in many cultures, are young Palestinians keen to move away from their past and adapt to changing times?
What happened in 1948 hasn’t stopped even till today. Young people are still going through it. So there is no question of moving away from the past.
Is there a new book in the pipeline?
The new book that I am working on at present is a personal story; about the Syrian side of my family. My mother was from Syria. Through it, I hope to show how the Middle East has changed. It used to be so tolerant but not anymore. Like my earlier books, this one too is a personal story through which I bring out the socio-political changes that are taking place.