Early next year, book groups around the US will delve into a historical saga set in the city of Jenin, bringing together readers to learn about the story of modern Palestine. The reading campaign — which will hopefully spread arond the world — is called “One Book — Many Communities.”
The group Librarians and Archvists With Palestine has announced the campaign based on the “one book — one town” idea, which brings together people across many towns and cities to read and talk about the same book. Discussions will take place throughout January 2015, and Librarians and Archivists have put together a toolkit for organizers, bookmark and poster templates and a central website to publicize events, wherever they are.
The first novel chosen is Susan Abulhawa’s Mornings in Jenin, a historical saga set in Palestine and the US which follows the impact of the Nakba — the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine — on a family who settle in the refugee camp in Jenin after being forced out of their home village.
The campaign kicks off in New York with a launch on 8 November, where Abulhawa will be appearing at the Bluestocking Bookstore.
In an email exchange, Hannah Mermelstein of Librarians and Activists With Palestine told me a little more about the “One Book” campaign, what the group hopes to achieve, and why she feels that literature is a good medium for teaching people about Palestine:
Sarah Irving: What is it about Mornings in Jenin that makes it a good book to kick off a campaign like this?
Hannah Mermelstein: Mornings in Jenin is a very accessible novel that is both deeply moving and organized chronologically as it takes the reader through four generations of a Palestinian family. So it is both a good introduction to Palestinian literature and to Palestinian history. The novel is partially inspired by Ghassan Kanafani’s Returning to Haifa, so it provides the opportunity for further reading and learning for those who want that. It was written in English by a Palestinian-American author whom we know; we were able to discuss the idea with Susan Abulhawa and she will be coming to our launch event in New York City. It’s also been translated into more than 25 languages, so folks around the world can participate.
SI: Do you have future books already lined up, or will that come later?
HM: Not yet. Suggestions welcome!
SI: What do you think is special about literature in terms of spreading interest in and knowledge of Palestine?
HM: For many, reading a novel is more appealing than reading a historical tome, so this kind of literature is able to reach a wider audience than we might otherwise reach. People are also more willing and able to accept fictional characters for who they are — flawed and perhaps with different opinions than one’s own — than they are to read nonfiction or political analysis with which they disagree. During Israel’s assault on Gaza this past summer, Librarians and Archivists With Palestine read Palestinian poetry and excerpts of literature on the New York City subways, and I think the reaction was more positive than if we had simply gotten on the train and said, “End the siege of Gaza. Boycott Israel.” The bookmarks that we handed out said that, but in our spoken words we were able to draw people in and to share Palestinian voices directly, since most of us are not Palestinian.