Against the Loveless World, by Susan Abulhawa

Trigger warning for rape and anti-Semitism.

Everything is political. Some of us are lucky enough that we’re insulated from a lot of the politics. Money and privilege are our safety nets. So, given the awful choices that Nahr has to make in the incendiary Against the Loveless World, by Susan Abulhawa, lead her to become a freedom fighter—or a terrorist, depending on your point of view. Nahr comes from a family of Palestinian refugees who lost most of their land and have been making do in Kuwait, at least until Iraq invades and they find themselves in the middle of an active war zone. As a Palestinian, she is looked down on by other Arabs. She’s been taught to hate the Jews who stole her country. And on top of all of this, her family of mostly women has had to scrap and save for every bit of money. Nahr never had a safety net, with plenty of reasons to grow up angry at the world.

Against the Loveless World unfolds over roughly forty years. When we meet Nahr, she’s in a high-tech prison in Israel. We’re not told until much later why Nahr is in prison or how she got from Kuwait to Israel. To find that out, we go back to Nahr’s adolescence in Kuwait. After expulsion from Israel (which Palestinians call the Nakba, the disaster or catastrophe), Kuwait took in thousands of refugees as guest workers. Nahr falls into sex work because it’s the only way to get enough money to send her brother to university and to support her family. Her terrible experiences with men who take advantage of what they view as paid for and bought add to her simmering rage at the world.

After the first Iraq War, Nahr and her family flee to Amman, Jordan, where she is offered the opportunity to reconnect with her Palestinian heritage. This opportunity also brings her into the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, a bloody forever war between two sides who both believe they have a claim on the same territory and who have committed atrocities against each other. I’ve heard the story of Israel from the Israeli side, as a triumph of the Jewish people after the Holocaust. I can’t recall ever having heard the story from the Palestinian side. I definitely haven’t heard the story told with such fury as Nahr tells it. As Nahr tells us about her life and how she ended up in prison, she doesn’t talk so much about history as she does about Palestinian culture, food, art, and dancing—especially the dancing—and about how remaining Palestinians are holding on to what they have left of their ancestral land and holdings. It’s impossible not to sympathize with Nahr and her family. The difficulty in reading this book is that, as an outsider with some small knowledge of the history, I couldn’t take sides. I could understand Nahr’s actions, but I couldn’t approve of them.

Against the Loveless World is an incredible, but difficult, book to read. It contains so much controversy and hardship that I was grateful for Nahr’s happiest memories. But like so many other difficult books, it’s very much worth readers’ wile to read it. It presents a very human history that we in America don’t hear much, one that we need to hear to fully comprehend the mire of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. It’s also worthwhile because it can show those of us who live comfortable lives what it might be like if we were unlucky enough to be born without a state and without the safety money can provide.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

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