“Mapping My Return: A Palestinian Memoir,” by Salman Abu Sitta.

 

Memoirs and autobiographies are powerful records of important lives, their significance corresponding, perhaps, with the stature of the writer. That is certainly the case with Salman Abu Sitta’s Memoir, recording as it does the life of a giant of Palestinian resistance, a champion of the Right of Return. Yet that characterisation fails to capture why this book is so memorable and a must-read for anyone interested in Palestine.

It is powerfully and eloquently written, and the opening pages are a lyrical recreation of Palestine before the Nakba, a land in which people, indeed, had everything that made life worth living, to paraphrase Darwish. At the same time, this early section of the work is deeply political, its subtext undermining the myth that Palestine was a land crying out for Zionist development, an empty desert, devoid of people.

And this is how the book operates throughout its trajectory. Salman’s narrative carries layers of meaning  – personal, historical, political:  telling his own story but illuminating his people’s collective experience, capturing at once episodes that have marked and shaped his own life and, through them, raising the voice of all Palestinians.

The variety is remarkable: From Arabic poem on one page, “Knowledge builds houses from broken stones / Ignorance destroys once glorious houses” to the Balfour Declaration on another, “legally void, morally wicked and politically mischievous.” There are stories that live in the memory, individual tragedies that echo the communal experience, such as that of young Nadid, eager for life, and his mother, from Khan Younis. Add to that insights into the author’s moral code, shaped early in life by a tiny note, pressed into his palm by his father, kept safe to this day, containing paternal imperatives that grew into the adult man’s quest for justice, informing his life’s work.  And through it all, from the first to last page, runs the golden thread: The Right of Return, “sacred, legal and feasible.” A book to read and savour, without doubt.

The last word goes to the author: “I believe, even amid all of our political realities, that our family’s motto, “We Persevere” will be vindicated, that human spirit and determined will can triumph in the end.”  Annie O’Gara