Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa is the story of protagonist Amal after her family is forced out of their home, during the newly formed state of Israel in 1948. It was originally published as The Scar of David in 2006 in the United States and as Les Matins de Jenin in France. Since then it has been translated into 26 languages and reissued in the United States as Mornings in Jenin in 2010.
Though in many ways it could be categorized as historical fiction, Mornings in Jenin is a modern classic. It is a story of past, present, and future. Abulhawa beautifully weaves an interconnected timeline of grandparents and grandchildren, showcasing the changes that each generation brings about. Written in the first-person narrative, the multi-generational story explores what it means to be a true Palestinian, the implications of war on one’s identity, and the inevitable tragedies that comes with war.
What made this book an immensely powerful read was Amal’s expertly fleshed out voice as a character. Her bravery and determination to stay true to herself and identity is one of the many themes of the story. At times, it’s hard to believe that Amal is in fact a fictional character.
Another important theme in the story is the idea of the family unit and the process of culture being passed down from one generation to another. Inherited culture is shown here as a great weapon to fight oppression and colonialism. It’s depicted clearly that although the rights and homes of Palestinians are stripped away from them, their culture is embedded deeply within their identity despite their location and circumstances. What’s also enjoyable in the novel was Abulhawa’s portrayal of different nuanced characters. Not all characters behave in the most “Palestinian” ways, which breaks away from the idea of caricatured Arab characters.
Abulhawa does not believe in censoring the violence against Palestinians. She goes into great depth explaining each act of horror, only to show that the brutalities are a pivoting point in changing the characters’ lives. This shows that part of the Palestinian identity is shaped by the tragedies they endure and how they move forward.
Mornings in Jenin is one of the novels that has helped revolutionize Arab literature. It is one of the first mainstream novels in English to explore life in post-1948 Palestine, making it a huge milestone for Palestinian and Arab literature.