The author Sahar Khalifeh has poignantly conveyed her concerns throughout the book, using vividly detailed descriptions of contrasting characters both major and minor with their contrasting perceptions, stream of consciousness and the recurring, nostalgic images of an occupied land. In the context of the book, the themes outlined by the author include power, authority; a clear image of oppression by the Israelis and the cultural and political divide of different Palestinian classes and genders associated with different approaches and varying methods of resistance. The perceptions of the working class have been juxtaposed with the perceptions of the upper strand of the Palestinian society, who now have been reduced to poverty living under the military rule. The tone and the point of view are expressed by the author, through effective diction and images of hopelessness, despair and frustration.
The introduction to the novel depicts the young generation and the older generations point of view. The omniscient point of view draws a clear picture of what is to come next, foreshadowing the theme and outlining both the armed and the inner conflict and turmoil of the characters. In order for the reader to show sympathy or anger, the point of view of different characters is made clear through the dialogues and thoughts of these characters. The literary deceive stream of consciousness of these characters plus their words shows us the attitude and approach to the world lived under the occupation and brings out their different perspectives. A sense of the resentment and fear is evident in the minds and actions of both main characters despite their different approaches.
The writer has given detailed descriptions of the two contrasting characters Adil and Usama, and their stream of consciousness to convey the inner and external conflict. The literary devices used by the author include dramatic dialogues and short sentences. Through the omniscient writer, the conflicting thoughts are revealed of Adil and Usama who belong to one family and live in the same country yet they have conflicting points of view that remain consistent throughout the book.
The two cousins Usama and Adil are the two round characters presented in the book. Usama is a young idealist who has just returned from the Gulf. As he enters his lost in time homeland he is surprised by his people, as they have adapted themselves to survive under the Occupation. For him, the land is a nostalgic reminder of love, peace and humanity. Hence Usama is nostalgic yet idealistic as he fails to understand the working class and lacks a real connection to the people of Palestine.
The author brings in the conflict of the land right from the beginning as the exposition foreshadows what is to come next in the story. “A land of milk and honey, the promised land.” As Usama moves outside, his resentment and pain come to action as he notices that once this was a promised land and now it has been occupied and is in the hands of the Israelis. “The trails twisted and turned, snake-like, as the car sped down” Just like the car, the trails of this country are also in the hands of the leaders, both Palestinians and the Israelis, who seem to have no feelings for the suffering of the people.
On the other hand, Adil is practical and down to earth as he has the difficult task of keeping his family secure. His altitude is reflected in his to work as a laborer if that is necessary to keep his family secure. Hence Adil is pragmatic, a decision maker and a problem solver around his household. . “I’m a slave to the mouth I feed, and to the kidney machine. And Usama searches our eyes for a glimmer of shame. Sink in the mud, Palestine, and kiss the world goodbye.”Adil is a character who has a realistic approach to the occupation as he sympathises with those who are living under the occupation but has a lack of sympathy for those who left the country long before and have returned to create more turmoil, just like his cousin Usama.
Hence Adil has a humanizing, sympathetic touch for his own people as well as the Israelis even though they have occupied the Palestinian land. The brutal image of the Israeli officer murdered portrays the characteristics of Adil and reveals his empathy for the wife and the child. Even though he was murdered by Usama, Adil steps forward to comfort the family. The author’s point of view has been made evident to create sympathy in the reader’s mind, through the detailed description and vivid imagery given in the description of the murdered officer.”He let out a deep groan and slumped over the box of meddlers, his blood spurting out as though from a fountain, his wife screamed and then just stood terror-stricken and dazed”. Through this vivid imagery, the reader reflects on the human cost of the war and constant misery in the occupied lands. This event brings out the contrasting characteristics as Usama is heartless and is not ashamed of his actions that caused the family to lose their bread owner. Osama’s heartless attitude is also made evident as he does not evoke any sympathy for the family, his mother, all he cares about is the Promised Land, to him he’s not concerned about the families loss.
Though Adil and Usama are the most focused and clearest characters in the story there are many minor characters that also represent different Palestinian perspectives. Adil has a young sister named Nuwar, she is in love with the rebel who has been imprisoned and whom her family does not want her to marry as her father wants her to settle down with an educated practical man. Nuwar represents the woman’s struggle along with Saadiya who is Zuhdi’s wife as they both have strong female roles. The omniscient writer has opened up the stream of consciousness of these female characters for us to understand the inner and external conflicts that they are battling for the survival of their families under the occupation. They are not only oppressed by the Israelis but also by the generation of older men in their lives. The strong female attitude has played a major role for the readers to understand these feminine characters through the eyes of the author as she brings out the ethos through the use of diction. “That wife of mine’s a treasure, she does all she can to give me strength and courage through her prayers. And that helps.”
The conflicts within the class systems are highlighted by Sahar Khalifeh through the examples of the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Some of them had been very rich due to their land before the occupation and had a high position in the society, but soon this came crashing down due to the non -acceptance of change of realities. The Israeli have been pushing out the Palestinians who want to stay in their homeland and avoid conflict. They accept the change of employers and move to Israeli to work as laborers, They think it is a much better opportunity, working for the Israelis who pay better than their previous Palestinian employers . These working class people want to stay in their own country and feed their families even if death rises them daily. “You’ve never really known the bitterness of fate. When its curse falls on you remorselessly you see death as something you can reach only in your wildest dreams.”
Adil father’s and his generation is negative reaction to the occupation is pessimistic in their opinions. All that these men do is grumble and groan but no one is ready to step forward and translate their words into reality, unlike Adil, who is proactive and decisive. Abu Shahada is another character who also works in Israel, even though he is in charge of the farmland owned by Adil’s father he still doesn’t look after the farmland as he should, hence he moved to Israel to work at an Israeli factory worker as it is “better over there, lots of money, plenty of easy work.”
Certain flat characters like Abu Shahada also heighlight the theme, the corruption of morals and values of the older generation. This is the main reason why the younger generation is not able to share their opinions with the older generation. As Usama converses with Abu Shahada about the orchards, he gets frustrated as he is not able to get through to Abu Shahada, hence this creates conflicts within the flat and round characters throughout the book.
Zuhdi’s, another minor character brings out the conflicts of both the , Israelis and Palestinians. The Jewish workers are paid much higher wages than the Palestinians. This revels the double standards created by the Israelis. The Palestinians work hard for their family to survie during the occupation yet there is a lack of fair play from the Israelis. An example is when Zuhdis was criticized and abused by the Jewish officer, he reacts violently as he wants to take out all the frustration of the unfair treatment of the laborers and this leads to negative consequences.
The details and imagery created by Sahar Khalifeh help to create a sincere, honest portrayal of people torn apart by both inner and external conflicts; the portrayal of the young and the old, the occupier and the occupied all combine to present a point of view that is heart-wrenching. “The pines on the heights of mount Aibel Swan in a space of eternal hope. A cool breeze rustled the leaves of the trees, they glistened they shone. Spring, hope, dreams of freedom and peace.”
The occupation has created a sense of hopelessness and despair among the Palestinians; the land it inspires faith and a long feeling of hope. The setting itself is a powerful metaphor used by the author as it represents what the people aspire for. The title of the book seems to be very valid to the story as there is a bubble of freedom inside the hearts of the Palestinians but the bubbles are covered with thorns which symbolizes that their freedom has been captured by the occupiers, the Israelis.