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Non Fiction

I was born there, I was born here

I stumbled across this book in the Westminster London (close to where I work) Library one day and took this home. A continuation to my favourite I Saw Ramallah, I can’t wait to read the sequel.

In 2000 Mourid Barghouti published I Saw Ramallah that told of returning in 1996 to his Palestinian home for the first since exile following the Six-Day War where Palestinian was expelled from their homes.

This book continues the story when Barghouti returned to the Occupied Territories to introduce his Cairo-born son, Tamim, to his Palestinian family. Ironically, a few years later Tamim himself was arrested for taking part in a demonstration against the impending Iraq war. He was held in the very same Cairo prison from which his father had been expelled to begin a second exile in Budapest when Tamim was only a few months old. Thus began his 17-year separation of Mourid Barghouti from his wife and son, seeing them only in extended intervals.

Dedicated to his wife Radwa, the book was not a memoir but rather called ‘prose’. Similar to the first instalment it vacillates between the 1990s and the present day, weaving into his account of exile poignant evocations of Palestinian history and daily life before and after occupation – the pleasure of coffee arriving at just the right moment, the challenge of a car journey through Occupied Territories, the many camouflage and time spent waiting to get a permit into Jerusalem or Ramallah, and the significance of being able to stand in his ancestry home in Palestine to say ‘I was born here’ rather than the many years of exile of ‘I was born there’.

The Occupation stretched the distance between Tamim and Deir Ghassanah (Barghouti’s ancestry village) to more than twenty-one years, his whole life till then. Tamim took a large step when we obtained his permit, and the distance started to shrink. Now only 27 km separate Tamim and from Deir Ghassanah. He knows that I was born’ there’. In half an hour I’ll be saying to him, “I was born here.” – page 79

The crossing point nullifies the fatherhood of fathers, the motherhood of mothers, the friendship of friends, and the love of lovers. Here it is difficult to practice tenderness. Here the possibility of solidarity and rescue are negated. Here I can neither help my son nor protect him as a father…. I ask myself how many times do I have to feel powerless to protect the ones I love? – page 44

Yehudit Harel went on to say,

“I wish to protest against this false balance and this abuse of language. The circle of violence if not formed of two equal sides. One side is the Occupier and the other is the victim or our occupation. Nevertheless, we still apply the word ‘violence’ to every outburst of Palestinian resistance, to every battle for liberation to which they have recourse, and to every act of resistance to our occupation. This is not violence. It is legitimate rebellion.”

The difference of this book against the first was that this book has more anger in it than the first. The first was much more nostalgic and full of sorrow. Yet in Barghouti’s beautiful prose, I appreciate the gift of freedom and claiming a land our own from one that lost it. Taking away all the labelling and name calling, a rebellion against occupation should not be equate as violence. I reaffirm the cause of the struggle that has nothing to do with religion but one of political interest.

I think it is a gift to be able to recall life this vivid. I’ll live you with the last passage of John Berger’s introduction to this book:

Mourid Barghouti’s form of narrative insists that lived moments when they are momentous contain something that can be considered eternal, and that such moments, however brief and trivial they may appear to a third eye, join together and form a necklace called a lifetime. Living as we do in a consumerist culture, which recognises only the latest and the instantaneous, we badly need this reminder. Thank you, Mourid.

In his own word, Mourid Barghouti said

I do not weep for any past. I do not weep for this present. I do not weep for the future. I live through my five senses, trying to understand our story, trying to see. I try to hear a lifetime of voices. I try sometimes to tell the story and I don’t know why; perhaps because the history books will never write what I write. – page 67

There are very few such books on this topic in English language and to find it in such heart rending prose and eloquent voice is one of a kind. Deserve to be widely read.


Hardback. Publisher: Bloomsbury 2011; Length: 216 pages; Setting: 1998 to present day Palestine. Source: Westminster Library. Finished reading at: 26th December 2011. Translated by Humphrey Davies.

About JoV

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


9 thoughts on “I was born there, I was born here

  1. This sounds wonderful Jo – thanks for bringing it (and the first one) to my attention 🙂

    Posted by Tony | December 30, 2011, 1:04 am
  2. this is wonderful I ve read it but not got to it yet to review ,I think it shows the current situation so fairly when at times it would be easy to make it a angry book ,all the best stu

    Posted by winstonsdad | December 31, 2011, 12:55 pm
  3. Great review. Thanks to Stu, I have this and I Saw Ramallah on my TBR list.

    Posted by Gavin | January 1, 2012, 10:00 pm
  4. who translated this book?

    Posted by Wanderes | January 2, 2012, 12:01 am


  1. Pingback: Recent Finds « Ardent Reader - January 12, 2012

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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!

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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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