Podcast Ep 23: Against the loveless world

On episode 23 of The Electronic Intifada Podcast, author and activist Susan Abulhawa discusses her new novel Against the Loveless World.

Abulhawa’s Palestinian protagonist and narrator, Nahr, tells the story of her life from solitary confinement inside an Israeli prison cell called “the cube.”

Born into exile in Kuwait, Nahr’s life “begins with modest ambitions,” Abulhawa says. “She maybe comes across early on as very shallow. … But we also see early on sparks of who she will become. She is naturally very defiant.”

Nahr marries a Palestinian resistance hero but the union falls apart. She becomes a high-end sex worker and gains some financial security for herself and her family, but she remains in the margins.

She is raped by a group of men the night before Iraq invades Kuwait.

That invasion in 1990 led to Kuwait forcing Palestinian refugees there to flee for their lives, and once again Nahr and her family find themselves displaced.

“Not much has really been written about that moment in history, in fiction,” Abulhawa says, “except really warped versions from a US military perspective that really don’t represent Arabs in any human or meaningful way, and definitely not Palestinians, who were among the biggest victims, long-term, from that invasion.”

Nahr and her family flee to Jordan, and from there, Nahr eventually returns to Palestine. She falls in love, and after a series of events, she is thrown into the Israeli prison cell. But she is able to defy her confinement and builds a whole world within its walls.

Abulhawa describes her character’s capacity to hold the traumas of her parents’ generation – the expulsion of Palestinians during the Nakba, and again after the 1967 War – while she navigates her own trauma and a new set of political and physical realities.

“We inherit these memories from our ancestors and it’s a responsibility that we all feel to investigate them and to hold onto them and pass them along,” Abulhawa explains.

Abulhawa reads a passage from Against the Loveless World following the interview.

Further reading

Music: “Ramallah 1989” (Sabreen)

Theme music by Sharif Zakout

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).