Since shedding a light on life in post-1948 Palestine with her debut novel, Mornings in Jenin, author, poet and political activist Susan Abulhawa has garnered international recognition for her poignant literary works and advocacy for Palestinian rights. Born in Kuwait in 1970, to parents who were forced out of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War, her writing is deeply rooted in the repercussions of conflict and displacement.
Abulhawa began penning books in her 30s, publishing Mornings in Jenin in 2010. A powerful portrayal of a family’s survival through several decades of Israeli rule, it was translated into 32 languages and sold more than a million copies – making Abulhawa the most widely read Palestinian author of all time. She continued to delve into the consequences of colonial violence and cultural dispossession in 2015’s The Blue Between Sky and Water and 2020’s Against the Loveless World.
A fervent activist, Abulhawa channels her passion into lectures and humanitarian initiatives, spearheading conversations on human rights violations and the plight of marginalized populations. She is a vocal advocate for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and serves as executive director of Palestine Writes, the only literature festival in North America dedicated to uplifting the creative output of Palestinian authors and artists.
Abulhawa highlighted some of her favorite books on Palestine in a 2010 interview with Five Books. From Ghada Karmi to Edward Said, her choices offer a searing, intimate look at Palestinian life under occupation. Dive into her recommendations below, and complement with the bookshelves of other acclaimed writers and activists.
Susan Abulhawa’s Reading List
My Father Was a Freedom Fighter by Ramzy Baroud
“This is a wonderful book – it’s a history book, it’s a work of literature, it’s a memoir… Ramzy Baroud is a political commentator and historian, editor of the Palestine Chronicle and editor of a book called Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion about the events of 2002. He grew up in the Gaza refugee camp and is very familiar with the psychology of the people in the camps – to this day they’re holding out hope and still dreaming of going home. He captures this delightfully and his descriptions of place and people are just magnificent. These sorts of works are so important because, you know, when people write about Palestine it tends to be in dry, sterile prose. There is nothing dry about this book – even though it’s non-fiction it is full of emotion and wonderful characters.” -SA
I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti
“The language for me is almost more important than the story which is a moving account of his homecoming. Mourid writes very much in the Arab tradition of poetry. And he depicts a situation that so many of us in exile or living under occupation feel… This is the untold story – for all these years Palestinians have been going on with their lives, getting an education, getting jobs, getting married, and dealing with this occupation as best they can, going through checkpoint after checkpoint, roadblock after roadblock, one procedure after another, and yet they still live. That’s what is so often missing in the dominant mainstream narrative about Palestine and how Palestinians have been resisting passively for 62 years simply by going on, refusing to break or hate.” -SA
In Search of Fatima by Ghada Karmi
“Fatima was the Karmi family’s much-loved governess or nanny. This is another memoir, a memoir of violent uprooting and dislocation, presented in an intimate and very personal way. The Karmis were one of the wealthy Palestinian families of Jerusalem who overnight became penniless [in 1948 during the creation of the State of Israel] and left their home complete with furniture, pictures, food, everything – at that time Jewish families literally walked down the street and picked out the homes that they wanted. The family ended up in the UK and Fatima was left behind with her family. They never saw her again.” -SA
Palestinian Walks by Raja Shehadeh
“Raja Shehadeh is a walker – he’s also an attorney living in the West Bank, and a very unassuming, soft-spoken man. In this book he describes the walks he took in Palestine over decades, detailing the changing landscape. This is just one man who took all these walks and the outward walks are symbolic of inner journeys. When there are places he can’t walk because of Israel having drawn different borders he goes into himself and explores his own personal borders. His reflections on what he sees are gentle in their approach to describing an awful and harsh illegal military occupation. Raja is a beautiful soul who has a way of talking about the politics without talking about the politics.” -SA
Out of Place by Edward Said
“Edward Said has a very special place in my heart, as he does, I think, in every Palestinian heart. He was a giant of a man and I was gutted when he died. In some ways I thought he was bigger than life – bigger than death. But of course he wasn’t. This is a very intimate book about his young life. His parents were domineering or distant and he talks about always feeling stranded, left behind, out of place. This book resonates with me, not just because I absolutely love the man but because it mirrors a lot of my own feelings about being a diaspora Palestinian – you perpetually feel out of place, you never really have a sense of belonging, just existing in the winds wherever you are.” -SA
(via Five Books)