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Non Fiction

Sharon and My Mother-in-Law by Suad Amiry

For all the books about the military, hard politics and melancholic accounts of Palestine and life under Isreali occupation, Suad Amiry’s Sharon and my Mother-in-law is a breath of fresh air.

Suad Amiry took twenty years to live and write about her life under occupation. The book told her life in Ramallah through diary entries and e-mail correspondence, primarily describes a life spent waiting: waiting for the Israeli occupation of Ramallah and other Palestinian territories to end. Waiting for the correct documentation to arrive to allow passage through numerous security checkpoints. Waiting for 7 years before she and her husband could live in the same roof. And perhaps most painfully, waiting out a military curfew while being stuck in the house with her mother-in-law.

The book is easy and a joy to read. Amiry’s quick pacing and narrate dialogues in such clarity that you feel as if you have the first hand of how chaotic the situation is. The book is separated by short chapters with a specific theme and told through diary entries and e-mail correspondences. The book primarily describes a life spent waiting: waiting for the Israeli occupation of Ramallah and other Palestinian territories to end. Waiting for the correct documentation to arrive to allow passage through numerous security checkpoints. And, perhaps most vividly, waiting out a military curfew while being stuck in the house with her mother-in-law.

The book doesn’t give you a background of what’s happening but the onus is on me to find out about the historical background:

The history of the city of Ramallah was captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, governed for three decades by the Israeli Civil Administration, transferred to the administration of the Palestinian Authority in 1995, re-occupied by the Israeli army again in 2002 and the advent of the Separation Wall. After the eruption of the Second Intifada, during which Israeli military curfews were even more stringently enforced and barriers between Israeli and Palestinian territories constructed.

It is rare to find a book that could make me laugh. It is even more rare to find a book that could make you laugh in the most tragic and pressing situation. Knowing that I am not suppose to laugh about a grim situation, yet Amiry humourous narrative made me laugh.

She relates the experiences of getting her dog Nura a Jerusalem passport (when she herself is unable to acquire one); the soap-operatic events in her neighborhood, which she refers to as The Bold and Not-So-Beautiful; one night when her husband, husband’s cousin and herself got caught in a curfew, she stared at the young Israel soldier until her stares unnerves the young man; a possibility of inciting another heart attack for an old Israeli man that Amiry pick up from the roadside when he knew that she is a Muslim, and of course, trying to get her mother-in-law out of her house before the onslaught of Israel’s army Amiry recounts trying to get her mother-in-law out of her home (which is close to Arafat’s compound, was effectively in a war zone), while her mother-in-law asks if she should pack her purple dress or water the plants and even the formidable task of contemplating a way for the 90-year-old mother-in-law to scale a high wall in the backyard!

‘Suan, we seem to have a little problem here.’ She said in her rather serious English accent.
‘what is it, Doctor?’ wanting to know what the problem was, I did not correct my name.
‘Did you say Nura (Suad’s dog) lives in Ramallah?’ she asked.
‘Yes, with me of course,’ I answered nervously.
‘but the Jerusalem municipality vaccines are only for Jerusalem dogs.’
‘But you know it is illegal for us to live in Jerusalem, Doctor, as we have Ramallah IDs,” I said, interrupting Dr Tamar in a panic.
‘No need to change residency. Would you be willing to pay for the vaccine?” she asked.

<Suad paid for the vaccine>

‘We still seem to have a little problem here,’ I heard Dr Tamar say before I even saw her.
‘What is it now?’ I asked, standing up.
‘Well, this certificate is issued by Jerusalem municipality, and I am not sure whether it is recognised by the newly established Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah.’
She must be kidding, I thought to myself, but unfortunately Dr Tamar looked damn serious (at that time people were still taking the Oslo Agreement seriously).
‘Don’t worry, Dr Tamar. It would be good enough if the Palestinian National Authority recognised its own certificates, let alone Arab dogs holding Jerusalem certificates.’

(and that’s how Nura the dog got a Jerusalem’s passport, and how when passed the checkpoint, Suad passes the checkpoint because she is the driver of a Jerusalem dog. How lucky Nura the dog is when Suad thinks about little Yasmin, Sawsan’s and Samir’s only child. The Israelis would not give her a Jerusalem ID because her father had a Palestinian Ramallah ID, and the Palestinian Authority would not give her a Palestinian ID because her mother had an Israeli Jerusalem ID).

With her sense of humour intact and also provides flashes of the inconveniences of everyday life in occupied territory, Amiry spins a head whirling, heart palpitating account story of her unusual life. It is impossible to quote the many humourous examples of her daily life without running it at 6 pages long so if you want to look for a book that will make you laugh and yet make you cry a little inside and be inspired, look no further. Let Amiry revealed to you what goes behind the scenes and what actually happens beyond the international news headline. I wanted to read her other book next “Nothing to lose but your life”.


Read about another conversation about muddy coffee served in a Captain’s office and here Suad Amiry speaks here:

Susan Abraham Books Blog

In the spirit of participating in Arab Lit Top 105 Challenge in which I read a book which is not in the top 105 (it’s no good isn’t it?) 😦

Hardback. Length: 194 pages. Publisher: Granta Books 2005. Source: Own. Setting: 1981 to 2002 Palestine – Israel. Finished reading at: 29thAugust 2011. Written in English.

About the writer:

Suad Amiry is an architect, and the founder and director of RIWAQ: the Centre for Architectural Conservation in Ramallah. After growing up between Amman, Damascus, Beirut and Cairo, she went on to study architecture at the American University of Beirut, and the Universities of Michigan and Edinburgh.

Amiry has been living in Ramallah since 1981 and participated in the 1991 – 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Peace negotiations in Washington. She won Italy’s prestigious Viareggio-Versilia Prize in 2004. This book was longlisted for the Lettre Ulysses Award for Reportage and has been sold to publishers in 11 countries.

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


14 thoughts on “Sharon and My Mother-in-Law by Suad Amiry

  1. My knowledge of this part of history is sketchy. This I think combines the history along with daily life of a normal family. Should be very good.

    Posted by Mystica | August 29, 2011, 10:12 am
  2. This sounds so good, and who could resist that cover?!!!

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | August 29, 2011, 11:42 am
  3. Well, if you wish it were longer, you could follow it with Amiry’s also-laugh-out-loud “Nothing to Lose But My Life.”

    Sure it counts! 🙂

    Posted by mlynxqualey | August 30, 2011, 5:23 am
  4. This does sound like a very interesting book on an aspect of the world I would like to know more about

    Posted by Mel u | August 30, 2011, 6:43 am
  5. this is one that seems up my street Jov thanks for review ,have noted it down as I ve read a few from round here in last year ,all the best stu

    Posted by winstonsdad | August 30, 2011, 12:33 pm
  6. Wonderful review of a wonderful book, Jo! This looks like a fascinating insider’s account of what happened in Ramallah and how normal families were affected. Glad to know that it made you laugh – Suad Amiry must be a really talented writer. I found that anecdote about the family dog having a different passport, quite humorous and sad at the same time. I think this book deserves more awards and more publicity. I will add this to my ‘TBR’ list.

    Posted by Vishy | September 1, 2011, 4:58 am
    • Vishy,
      I look forward to hear what you think about this. Rarely a book make you laugh about someone else’s tragedy but as a famous Asian saying says: if you can’t do anything much about the hard situation of your life you may as well laugh it off! and I think Arabs sense of humour is more or less similar to that.

      Posted by JoV | September 2, 2011, 7:27 pm


  1. Pingback: It’s a Wrap! August 2011 « Bibliojunkie - September 2, 2011

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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