05 Jan / Mother of Strangers by Suad Amiry [in Booklist]
Egyptian American actor Amin El Gamal and Palestinian American actor/writer/director Lameece Issaq reunite here as hopeful lovers: 15-year-old Subhi, a prodigious mechanic, and 13-year-old village girl Shams. Palestinian writer/architect Suad Amiry, acclaimed for her memoirs and other nonfiction, debuts her first novel, inspired by the real life of a kind cabdriver’s aunt.
Subhi and Shams’ story begins in 1947 Jaffa, a prosperous port city famous enough for its hospitality to earn the nickname “mother of strangers.” Subhi miraculously repairs an irrigation system, earning him a custom-made English suit as payment from the orange grove’s wealthy owner; this fuels Subhi’s hopes of a wedding to Shams. But too soon, powerful leaders incite irreparable destruction: Britain withdraws after cleaving Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. The lovers’ loss and separation prove inevitable.
El Gamal’s Subhi is full of youthful ardor, transforming quickly to frustration, shock, and rage; the surprised initial joys of Issaq’s Shams morph into premature fear and anguish. The narrating duo’s overlapping cultural heritage adds fluency and empathy.