The women in this book map the Palestine they have to come to terms with – through their voices, personalities and beings… KALA KRISHNAN RAMESH
W hen Suad Amiry, a practising Ramallah-based architect, published her first book – Sharon and My Mother-in-Law – about being housebound with her mother-in-law during the forty-three-day curfew on Ramallah, imposed by the Israeli military, the world read and took notice because Amiry's book was a welcome other view of life in the occupied West Bank. Sharon and My Mother-in-Law had no heroes and no martyrs, only people who lived their lives with panache, even though dealing with the Israeli occupation was a daily, tiresome event. This same point of view makes Menopausal Palestine – Amiry's third book, published for the first time in English by Women Unlimited – as good to read as the others.
In Menopausal Palestine, Amiry shows us a “menopausal” Palestine, a Palestine, in which she and her menopausal friends are coming to terms with what they consider to be their personal, political and social defeat: the trouncing of the secular and pluralistic PLO faction, Fatah, by the more fundamentalist Hamas in the 2006 elections in Palestine.
The book starts on a high note, with the author and the ten other menopausal women who form CRIME (Committee of Ramallah Independent Menopausal Enterprise) meeting at a local restaurant, where the waiters vie to serve at their riotous table. It ends at the same place later that night, by which time each of the ten women's stories have been told, and Amiry has pulled all their individual narratives into a single story: that of their relationship to Palestine. Here, the author writes “I started thinking how many women around this table had left behind dear ones for Palestine. It reminded me of the one line I loved the most in Bab-il-Saha, Sahar Khalifeh's book, Port of the Square. ‘Palestine is a beast who devours her children.'”
The stories of the ten women, on which the writer has used all possible “privacy tricks” – Ola, Aida, Jamileh, Flora, Ann, Reem, Luisa, Rana, Maya and Fadia – are structured to reveal defining occasions in their lives. These stories are often in the first person and carry the stamp of the narrators' personalities; since the women are so different one from the other, this makes great reading. Each story is interesting and colourful on its own, but, stitched together, the result is a poignant, beautiful and powerful narrative. The stories tell of great courage and determination, but equally of a sense of the adventure and fun of living to the full. And in every story, the author's own faith that laughter can make sense of a fragmenting world comes through.
Apart from the light the stories throw on the relationship of each of these women to Palestine, intriguingly, there is also a sub-text that tells of often troubled, complex relationships with their mothers. In a way, it is this sub-text that adds an unusual texture to the women's stories, invoking further depth.
Having taken the reader on a journey through the lives of ten women who love Palestine, Amiry ends Menopausal Palestine coming full circle to the notion of Palestine having reached some sort of mid-life, when she writes “ Experts say: Menopause is a wake-up call for a new phase in your life. And I say: So is Hamas.” And when she adds, in the spirit of the evening that has just passed “Two wake-up calls may be more than most people can handle,” we are left with the feeling that if anyone can, the women of CRIME surely can.
Each story is interesting and colourful on its own, but, stitched together, the result is a poignant, beautiful and powerful narrative.