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Mornings in Jenin: A Novel
by Susan Abulhawa

Published: 2010-02-15
Paperback : 352 pages
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A heart-wrenching, powerfully written novel that does for Palestine what The Kite Runner did for Afghanistan.

Mornings in Jenin is a multi-generational story about a Palestinian family. Forcibly removed from the olive-farming village of Ein Hod by the newly formed state of Israel in 1948, ...

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A heart-wrenching, powerfully written novel that does for Palestine what The Kite Runner did for Afghanistan.

Mornings in Jenin is a multi-generational story about a Palestinian family. Forcibly removed from the olive-farming village of Ein Hod by the newly formed state of Israel in 1948, the Abulhejos are displaced to live in canvas tents in the Jenin refugee camp. We follow the Abulhejo family as they live through a half century of violent history. Amidst the loss and fear, hatred and pain, as their tents are replaced by more forebodingly permanent cinderblock huts, there is always the waiting, waiting to return to a lost home.

The novel's voice is that of Amal, the granddaughter of the old village patriarch, a bright, sensitive girl who makes it out of the camps, only to return years later, to marry and bear a child. Through her eyes, with her evolving vision, we get the story of her brothers, one who is kidnapped to be raised Jewish, one who will end with bombs strapped to his middle. But of the many interwoven stories, stretching backward and forward in time, none is more important than Amal's own. Her story is one of love and loss, of childhood and marriage and parenthood, and finally the need to share her history with her daughter, to preserve the greatest love she has.

Set against one of the twentieth century's most intractable political conflicts, Mornings in Jenin is a deeply human novel - a novel of history, identity, friendship, love, terrorism, surrender, courage, and hope. Its power forces us to take a fresh look at one of the defining conflicts of our lifetimes.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


A    look into the soldier’s eyes,
but the muzzle of his automatic rifl e, pressed against her
forehead, would not allow it. Still, she was close enough to see
that he wore contacts. She imagined the soldier leaning into a
mirror to insert the lenses in his eyes before getting dressed to
kill. Strange, she thought, the things you think about in the district
between life and death.
She wondered if offi cials m ight express r egret for t he
“accidental’’ killing of her, an American citizen. Or if her life
would merely culminate in the dander of “collateral damage.”
A lone bead of sweat traveled from the soldier’s brow down
the side of his face. He blinked hard. Her stare made him
uneasy. He had killed before, but never while looking his victim
in the eyes. Amal saw that, and she felt his troubled soul amid
the carnage around them.
Strange, again, I am unafraid of death. Perhaps because she
knew, from the soldier’s blink, that she would live.
She closed her eyes, reborn, the cold steel still pushing against
her forehead. @ e petitions of memory pulled her back, and still
back, to a home she had never known.

I.El Nakba(the catastrophe)
@ e Harvest
I   , before history marched over the hills
and shat t ered present and future, before wind g rabbed the
land at one corner and shook it of its name and character, before
Amal was born, a small village east of Haifa lived quietly on fi gs
and olives, open frontiers and sunshine.
It was still dark, only the babies sleeping, when the villagers of
Ein Hod prepared to perform the morning salat, the fi rst of fi ve
daily prayers. @ e moon hung low, like a buckle fastening earth
and sky, just a sliver of promise shy of being full. Waking limbs
stretched, water splashed away sleep, hopeful eyes widened. Wudu,
the ritual cleansing before salat, sent murmurs of the shehadeh
into the morning fog, as hundreds of whispers proclaimed the
oneness of Allah and service to his prophet Mohammad. Today
they prayed outdoors and with particular reverence because it
was the s tart of the olive harvest. Best to climb the rocky hills
with a clean conscience on such an important occasion.
@ us and so, by the predawn orchestra of small lives, crickets
and stirring birds—and soon, roosters—the villagers cast moon
shadows from their prayer rugs. Most simply asked for forgiveness
of their sins, some prayed an extra rukaa. In one way or another,
each said, “My Lord Allah, let Your will be done on this day. My
submission and gratitude is Yours,” before setting off westward
toward the groves, stepping high to avoid the snags of cactus.
Every November, the harvest week b rought renewed v igor to
Ein Hod, and Yehya, Abu Hasan, could feel it in his bones. He
left the house early with his boys, coaxing them with his annual hope of getting a head start on the neighbors. But the neighbors
had similar ideas and the harvest always began around fi ve ..
Yehya turned sheepishly to his wife, Basima, who balanced
the basket of tarps and blankets on her head, and whispered,
“Um Hasan, next year, let’s get up before them. I just want to
get an hour start over Salem, that toothless old bugger. Just one
Basima rolled her eyes. Her husband revived that brilliant
idea every year.
As the dark sky gave way to light, the sounds of reaping that
noble fruit rose from the sun-bleached hills of Palestine. @ e
thumps of farmers’ sticks striking branches, the shuddering of
the leaves, the plop of fruit falling onto the old tarps and blankets
that had been laid beneath the trees. As they toiled, women sang
the ballads of centuries past and small children played and were
chided by their mothers when they got in the way.
Yehya paused to massage a crick in his neck. It’s nearly noon, he
thought, noting the sun’s approach to zenith. Sweat-drenched,
Yehya stood on his land, a sturdy man with a black and white
kaffi yeh swat hing h is h ead, t he h em of h is robe t ucked in h is
waist sash in the way of the fellaheen. He surveyed the splendor
around him. Mossy green grass cascaded down those hills, over
the rocks, around and up the trees. @ e sanasil barriers, some of
which he had helped his grandfather repair, spiraled up the hills.
Yehya turned to watch Hasan and Darweesh, their chest muscles
heaving beneath their robes with every swing of their sticks to
knock the olives loose. My boys! P ride swelled Yehya’s h eart .
Hasan is growing strong despite his diffi cult lungs.  anks be to Allah.
... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the Publisher:

1. Mornings in Jenin opens with a prelude set in Jenin in 2002, as Amal faces an Israeli soldier’s gun. How does this prelude set the scene for the novel to come? Why does the novel open here, in contemporary Jenin, rather than at the beginning of the Abulheja family’s story? Why do you think the author wanted the reader to know in the prelude that the main character was “an American citizen”?

2. Discuss the dual traditions of land and learning in the Abulheja family. Which members of the family seem to value land over education, and vice versa? In which family members do these two traditions come together? What common values do all members of this family share? How do these values compare to the values of farmers or of those who in another way live “close to the earth” in other countries?

3. The boyhood friendship between Hasan and Ari Perlstein is “consolidated in the innocence of their twelve years, the poetic solitude of books, and their disinterest in politics” (9). What do Hasan and Ari learn from each other? Considering that Palestine had historically been a country where people of all three monotheistic religions lived in relative harmony, do you think such friendships between children like Ari and Hasan were unusual then? Could two children like Hasan and Ari have become friends in a later time period? Why or why not?

4. In Jenin, the early morning “was a time and place where the hope of returning home could be renewed” (41). What rituals take place in the early morning hours? What is the significance of the title Mornings in Jenin?

5. Find scenes in the novel when family strife and political strife intersect. What are some problems that the Abulheja family faces day-to-day? Which family conflicts are caused by the political situation, and which seem common to families in all parts of the world?

6. Discuss the series of events that lead to Ismael’s new life as David. What connections can be drawn between Moshe’s kidnapping and Israel’s actions toward the Palestinian people? What wounds are healed when David discovers his real identity?

7. Hasan tells his daughter, “Amal, with the long vowel, means hopes, dreams, lots of them” (72). What hopes and dreams does Amal’s name suggest for the Abulheja family, and to what degree is she able to fulfill them? How do her hopes and dreams change when she calls herself “Amy” in America?

8. After surviving a week underground during the 1967 conflict, Amal denies knowing Dalia. Why does she renounce her mother? What are the consequences of Amal’s “disgraceful lie” (74)?

9. Haj Salem tells Amal, “We’re all born with the greatest treasures we’ll ever have in life. One of those treasures is your mind, another is your heart” (133). How does Haj Salem’s speech influence Amal’s decision to go to school in Jerusalem? Explain why Amal considers his words “the greatest wisdom ever imparted to me by another human being” (133).

10. Amal and Yousef both lose the people they love most in the attacks on Lebanon in 1982. How do brother and sister react differently to their tragedies, and why? How does this tragedy drive them further apart, instead of closer in their grief? How do you think Amal’s reaction might have been different had she not been pregnant?

11. Amal associates Dalia’s stoic behavior with a line of her mother’s advice: “Whatever you feel, keep it inside” (204). When does Amal follow Dalia’s example, and when does she break from it? How does Amal’s behavior with her daughter, Sara, resemble Dalia’s mothering? Discuss how Amal comes to the following realization: “Dalia, Um Yousef, the untiring mother who gave far more than she ever received, was the tranquil, quietly toiling well from which I have drawn strength all my life” (274).

12. Consider the Israeli characters within Mornings in Jenin: Ari Perlstein, Moshe, Jolanta, and David’s sons. How do their experiences compare to the experiences of the Abulheja family? What do these Israeli voices add to the novel?

13. What layers of meaning can you find in the title of part III, “The Scar of David,” which was the original title of the book?

14. On page 270, when David asks if Amal still sees him as an abstraction, she thinks, “No... You and I are the remains of an unfulfilled legacy, heirs to a kingdom of stolen identities and ragged confusion.” What do you think Amal means by this? How do you see this statement in the context of the Palestinian struggle?

15. In their final conversations, as tanks roll through Jenin, Amal explains many of her hardships to her daughter, Sara. Why did Amal grieve “three thousand times” on September 11th (300)? How was Amal’s experience similar and different from the widows’ of 9/11? How did Sara misinterpret her mother’s grief at the time?

16. Nearly all of the characters in this book are transformed in one way or another by personal and international events. How are the transformations of Moshe, Dalia, Amal, and Yousef similar and how are they different? Of them, who undergoes the most dramatic change?

17. Why does the novel end with words from Yousef, who lives in exile? What mood does Yousef’s perspective create at the end of the book? Is it a surprise to learn that Yousef had not driven the bomb truck into the U.S. embassy in 1983? Considering that the PLO fighters who were exiled to Tunis in 1982 lost their families in the Sabra and Shatila carnage and none chose to respond with violence, why do you think the author chose this ending? What is the significance of the chapter title “The Cost of Palestine”?

18. If at all, how has this story changed how you view the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? Did you learn things that surprised you?

19. In the chapter where the story comes full circle to the prelude, how do you think Amal can face this soldier holding a rifle to her head with “a mother’s love and a dead woman’s calm” (305)? In this same chapter, consider the following passage in the context of how you think of soldiers and war, whether in your own country or elsewhere:

The power he holds over life is a staggering burden for so young a man. He knows it and wants it lifted. He is too handsome not to have a girlfriend nervously waiting for his return. He would rather be with her than with his conscience . . . But he has never seen his victim’s face. My eyes, soft with a mother’s love and a dead woman’s calm, weigh him down with his own power and I think he will cry. Not now. Later. When he is face-to-face with his dreams and his future. I feel sad for him. Sad for the boy bound to the killer. I am sad for the youth betrayed by their leaders for symbols and flags and war and power.

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

About the Author:

Susan Abulhawa was born to refugees of the Six-Day War of 1967. As a teenager she moved to the United States, where she grew up in the foster care system of North Carolina. She graduated from Pfeiffer University then completed a master’s degree in neuroscience at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. She is the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, Inc. (www.playgroundsforpalestine.org), an NGO that builds playgrounds for Palestinian children in the occupied territories and in refugee camps elsewhere. Abulhawa has contributed essays to anthologies and to the New York Daily News, the Chicago Tribune, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, among other publications.

Critical Praise:

“In this richly detailed, beautiful and resonant novel examining the Palestinian and Jewish conflicts from the mid-20th century to 2002 … Abulhawa gives the terrible conflict a human face … [and] makes a great effort to empathize with all sides and tells an affecting and important story that succeeds as both literature and social commentary.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Audacious, no-holds-barred account of a Palestinian family’s suffering during 60 years of Israeli occupation … A potent debut.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Mornings in Jenin is a powerful and passionate insight into what many Palestinians have had to endure since the state of Israel was created. Susan Abulhawa guides us through traumatic events with anger and great tenderness too, creating unforgettable images of a world in which humanity and inhumanity, selflessness and selfishness, love and hate grow so close to each other.”—Michael Palin

“Mornings in Jenin is a powerful and sensitive narrative that encapsulates the Palestinian experience with searing honesty and moving compassion. Susan Abulhawa displays linguistic and imaginative skills that single her out as a literary figure with tremendous promise… In both its specific Palestinian content and its larger human dimension, this novel is at once a challenge to complacency and ignorance as well as an affirmation of all that is enduring and valuable in the undefeated human spirit.”—Hanan Ashrawi, founder and Secretary General of the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH), and author of This Side of Peace: A Personal Account

“A powerful and heartbreaking book.”—Esther Freud

“The voice of Susan Abulhawa is honest, every word is heartfelt, the aim to honour history and acknowledge its facts. This book is a ‘tour’ waiting to take with it all kinds of readers: the already converted, the uninformed, and especially those who are fortunate enough to live secure lives.”—Hanan al-Shaykh

“I finished Susan Abulhawa’s novel last night. As I came to the end I could hardly bear to read it. But I did and I loved it ... what she’s done is that great Jane Eyre thing: here is my life, here is a life, from the very beginning to its very end; here is her family and her heart, her people and her land. You travel with her on every page.”—Carmen Callil

“I love Mornings in Jenin … It really is a great work—the epic novel the Palestinian tragedy has been waiting for.”— Robin Yassin-Kassab

Suggested reading from the publisher:

Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns; Sandy Tolan, The Lemon Tree; Jean Said Makdisi, Teta, Mother, and Me: Three Generations of Arab Women; Edward Said, Out of Place: A Memoir; Ibtisam Barakat, Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood; Sari Nusseibeh, Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life; Rajah Shehadeh, Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape; Ghada Karmi, In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story; Mourid Barghouti, I Saw Ramallah; Elizabeth Laird, A Little Piece of Ground.

Book Club Recommendations

by curlytop (see profile) 09/15/16
Many of the culture specific words used in this book were not found in the dictionary of my Nook. That hampered my understanding slightly.

Member Reviews

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by Emily G. (see profile) 12/16/19

by Tina H. (see profile) 08/02/19

  "Linda"by Linda C. (see profile) 09/15/16

A pleasant departure from our usual book club selections. I found this book to be insightful and beautifully written. It changed my perspective of the recent events of the ever changing and confusing middle... (read more)

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