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Sharon and my Mother-in-Law

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 25.02.2006:

This Week in Palestine

February 2005

Ramallah Diaries

by Suad Amiry

Granta Books, London, January 2005, 194 pages, NIS70

‘Perhaps one day I may forgive you for putting us under curfew for forty-two days, but I will never forgive you for obliging to have my mother-in-law with us for what seemed, then, more like forty-two years.’

Sharon and My Mother-in-Law is an entertaining and spirited account of living on the West Bank from the early eighties to the present. Amiry describes the agony of falling in love when you live in a country with a Byzantine system of Israeli permits, passes and checkpoints, and the sheer difficulty for Palestinians of moving from one place to another in this tiny country. The book is full of the life and gossip of Amiry’s neighbourhood in Ramallah – her neighbour, who has seven children, drops by regularly and boasts about her romantic conquests with men half her age; her fifteen year old neighbour Rami admits to Amiry that he is a collaborator with the Israelis. Amiry writes about the Gulf War of 1991, and its impact on the Palestinians – the endless curfews, the incompetent distribution of gas masks, and her difficulty getting her favourite cheesecake delivered from Bethlehem.

The book concludes with an extraordinary diary Amiry kept during the Israeli invasions of Ramallah in 2001-2, when Amiry’s feisty 92-year-old mother-in-law came to live with them, and fussed endlessly about her food and clothes. We learn how daily chores such as shopping, visiting friends and relatives, or going out to buy gas for the cooker become Herculean tasks for anyone living in a state of siege. Amiry’s comic timing is impeccable, and her ear for dialogue and eye for the telling details of human behaviour are spot-on. These are wonderful stories, little parables, which convey the absurdity (and tragedy) of life in the Occupied Territories.

Sharon and My Mother-in-Law is a uniquely funny, first hand account of daily life in Ramallah. It is an amusing book, which oscillates brilliantly between the tragic and the comic. Amiry’s weapon is irony, and she wields it with a great deal of finesse and intelligence.

Suad Amiry is the founder and director of the Riwaq: the Centre for Architectural Conservation in Ramallah. After growing up between Amman, Damascus, Beirut and Cairo, she went on to study architecture at the American University in Beirut, and the universities of Michigan and Edinburgh. Amiry has been living in Ramallah since 1981 and participated in the 1991-1993 Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in Washington. She won Italy’s prestigious Viareggio-Versilia Prize in 2004. Sharon and my Mother-in-Law was longlisted for the Lettre Ulysses Award for Reportage, and has been sold to publishers in eleven countries, including Germany, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Denmark, France and Israel. A regular column by Amiry in The Guardian is presently under discussion.

Sharon and my Mother-in-Law will have its first local book launch at the International Centre of Bethlehem (Dar Annadwa) on February 17th in the presence of the author. For details call 02-277 0047.

(Courtesy of the publisher)

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