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Monday, August 1, 2011

Comparison of Khirbet Khizeh and Returning to Haifa

Khirbet Khizeh reads almost like Japanese zuihitsu, "following the pen" stream of consciousness. The author places very intentional allusions and metaphors throughout, but in all of the intentionality he is repeatedly distracted by the land. Perhaps over half of the text pours and searches over the land, inherently showing why the Jewish people fought the way they did and what they wanted. He explains, with the beauty of the land, the desire for it. Other more obvious thematic metaphors--the lost stallion, the girl back home the soldiers bring up, the sheep--fall into a nice military line behind their powerful literary general, the allusion to Jeremiah's Lamentation. This particular allusion would have hit Jewish readers like a sledge hammer. Yet underneath all these, lies the consistently poetic descriptions of the land--the ultimate justification for both Jews and Arabs.

Perhaps the story is a bit unfair: not every Arab left out of fear, or because of forced evacuation, and the pictures painted of the pitiful, pathetic Arabs do not do much kindness to a favorable historical remembrance of the Palestinians. If anything, his portrayal of the weak Arab helps maintain the historical memory of the "primitive," disorganized Arab community falling to the superior European Jews. Out of all the Arabs, only two, at the end, do we see with strength and will. In some ways, his desire to set the Jews straight does not quite escape a certain stereotype.

Returning to Haifa reads much more like a conventional story. The poppy, strong descriptions carefully separate thought from reality, but all the more clearly emphasize memory. The author's use of third person allows him to stay within his character's mind, but describe the Jewish lady Miriam, and her experience finding the baby "Dov," on the same terms as his main character. This same third person narrative for all the characters and their memories gives Returning to Haifa a feeling of neutrality, even though, with its emphasis on the main Arab character's thoughts, we sense that neutrality lays outside of its grasp forever. The main character has gone through too much for "neutrality."

This story has a different historiography to its fiction than Khirbet does: the author includes footnotes, and works from as much cultural fact as he can, rather than from memory of the feeling of events. Perhaps this causes his emotional story to make more sense from both sides. We feel, of course, for the two Holocaust survivors, but equally do we feel for the two Arabs they have evicted, quite unintentionally, from their homes and their lives.

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