Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 16, 2019

The Palace of Angels, by Mohammed Massoud Morsi

I made heavy weather of reading The Palace of Angels, not because of any flaw in the writing, but because of its devastating subject-matter.  For my entire adult life, the Israel-Palestinian conflict has been a running sore, and whether I read Israeli authors or Palestinian ones, whether the books reinforce entrenched positions or argue for some kind of resolution, I always feel oppressed by what seems to be a hopeless situation.

The Palace of Angels consists of three linked novellas, What’s is Past is Dead; Twenty Two Years to Life and The Palace of Angels. What’s Past is Dead is a prequel: it’s about two youths trading hashish for weapons for the Palestinian side.  Their plans are reckless and naïve, but their life experience is not.  They have seen the capriciousness of death and they know, as all Palestinians know, that their side is and always will be outclassed militarily.  To fight back and assert your rights means putting your life on the line.  Submitting to the Occupation means tolerating the daily humiliations without complaint.  This region is full of volatile young people on both sides.  It’s only too easy for patience to snap, with devastating consequences.

Twenty Two Years to a Life contrasts Palestinian life with the lives we take for granted.  Fathi and Farid fall in love and marry, but they have trouble starting a family.  They save up to seek medical help, endure an exhaustive process of getting passports and visas, and finally make it to Canada for specialist help, only to find themselves stranded with little English.  They are helped by a Canadian man who recognises their plight, the irony being that they have to travel thousands of miles to get help that ought to be accessible to them closer to home.  Given the recurring patterns of violent strike and counter-strike, what happens to this little family seems inevitable but is no less heart-breaking for that…

Later on, in The Palace of Dreams it becomes clearer that life under any occupation is full of invidious choices.  Ultimately there is no choice but to choose.  Adnan, a Palestinian, falls in love with Linah, an Israeli soldier.  Their love transcends the violence and hatreds that the conflict breeds but tragedy is never far away.  Adnan’s best friend Ali crosses the line and becomes a militant, and Adnan is torn between the relative safety of doing nothing, or risking his own life to bring Ali back to his anguished mother.  And he has to choose between love and homeland, because there is no possibility of a union with Linah, not on either side of the wall.

Daily life under the Occupation is vividly brought to life.  There are daily queues through checkpoints to get to work, and everyone has to be flexible about schedules because checkpoints can close at random, with no explanation.  Or on the basis of some unspecified suspicion, there can be detention under intolerable conditions, or passengers in a bus can be made to wait in it, in the heat, all day.  Drones patrol the skies and give some warning that a weapons cache is about to be detonated, demolishing whatever building it happens to be in, at whatever cost to the occupants. Inevitably, children die.

And there is nostalgia for a time long ago when Jewish and Arab children played together…

See also the review by Ian Lipke at the Queensland Reviewers Collective. 

PS I found out about this book via the Love to Read newsletter, WA writing.

Author: Mohammed Massoud Morsi
Title: The Palace of Dreams
Publisher: Wild Dingo Press, 2019, 360 pages
ISBN: 9781925893045
Source: Bayside Library

Available from Fishpond:The Palace of Angels


Responses

  1. This sounds tough-going, but worth the effort.

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    • Apparently although it’s fiction, it’s all based on real events. Which makes it more devastating really.
      It’s like the reports we see on TV about Syria, they could all merge into one ghastly catastrophe, but I always see the faces of some Syrian twins who came to our school as refugees right at the beginning of that conflict, and I imagine them seeing the newsreels and their horror at what’s become of their home.

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  2. Reblogged this on penwithlit and commented:
    Sounds both interesting and challenging!

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  3. Totally agree about the oppressiveness of this situation.

    As for “And he has to choose between love and homeland, because there is no possibility of a union with Linah, not on either side of the wall”, sounds like there’s no choice? It’s homeland or homeland? (Unless they could both emigrate to a completely different country far away from families and home – and what would that bring?)

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    • I think that’s what he’s trying to say: that whichever side of the wall they tried to live on the suspicion and hostility towards the Other would destroy them.
      When I was a teenager we had neighbours who were from mutually hostile groups… he was Arabic and she was Jewish. From what I could see as a teenager it seemed to working out for them in suburban Melbourne, but at that age, I wouldn’t have been privy to any problems that they did have, living in a community that was back then becoming predominantly Jewish. (We were within walking distance of the most orthodox synagogue in Melbourne, and the ageing Holocaust survivors needed to live close by it so that they didn’t have to walk far on the Sabbath.)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lisa Hill, Sorry, this seems the only way to contact you – I could not find a Contact the Editor entry on your website. . Please give me an email to send a personal professional letter to you re writing a book review. I have read your wise policy on not/not reviewing self-published books but I submit that my new book (print copies available Friday 16 Oct, final proof files available now) may be the rare exception: This is a samizdat book and I am sure you will appreciate the political significance of this Soviet Russian term. You know I am an established Australian author of five published books. I have over the past two years been moved from Insider to pariah. It is an interesting story. I would like to send you the book for review, without commitment on your part. You may think it is heap of the proverbial, but I don’t think so. See tonykevin@grapevine.com.au. Regards, Tony Kevin
    (most recent previous book – Return to Moscow, UWA Publishing, 2017)

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    • Hi Tony, it’s good to hear from you.
      For future reference, to get in contact on any blog, always try the About Page, (mine is in the top menu). Nearly all of them will have either an email address or a contact form (like I do).
      Anyway, if anyone can tempt me with a self-published book it’s you because I did so admire Return to Moscow, and samizdat is indeed in a category all of its own. But I am a bit overwhelmed with books for review at the moment, so if I do decide to read it, it will won’t be until the new year now. Feel free to contact me with your info at anzlitlovers@bigpond.com but *please* don’t sent any PDFs or other files or my inbox will overflow into oblivion. (It’s in serious need of some housekeeping, but I can always find better things to do than re-read a million emails to decide if I should delete them or not). Besides that, I only read *books* and only in final copy editions, i.e. as a reader would encounter it in a shop. Cheers, Lisa

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