Nine Palestinian refugees tell Shatila’s stories in this innovative book

A novel born of extraordinary circumstance, “Shatila Stories” is a collaborative work of fiction. (Shutterstock)
Updated 21 July 2018
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Nine Palestinian refugees tell Shatila’s stories in this innovative book

CHICAGO: A novel born of extraordinary circumstance, “Shatila Stories” is a collaborative work of fiction written by nine refugees from the Shatila camp in Beirut that was commissioned by Peirene Press. The authors, ranging from the ages of 20 to 43, captivate the reader by painting a picture of muddied walkways, crumbling walls and desperate faces. From beginning to end, the phenomenal words of Omar Khaled Ahmad, Nibal Alalo, Safa Khaled Algharbaqi, Omar Abdellatif Alndaf, Rayan Mohamad Sukkar, Safiya Badran, Fatima Omar Ghazawi, Samih Mahmoud and Hiba Mareb take the reader on a powerful journey.
“Shatila Stories” begins with the character of Reham, who is leaving Damascus for Beirut. She and her family look to Shatila as a refuge from the strife at the Yarmouk camp in Syria. Reham’s story is embedded in spirituality and faith, a strength that drives many of the book’s characters through hopeful and harsh times. After Reham, the reader is told the story of Jafra, named after the revolutionary Palestinian fighter who was killed in an airstrike in 1976. Somehow, their destinies are one and the same as they sacrifice themselves for the greater struggle.
Evil lurks within the boundaries of the Shatila camp, where one’s wages can mean the difference between life and death. The dangers are real — children are exploited, disease is rampant and the methods used to safeguard residents are sometimes more harmful than helpful.
The writers have done a brilliant job of conveying the constricted yet vibrant lives led by many in the camp, as they wander alleyways that are “narrow yet wide enough to hold a thousand stories.”
The effort to publish nine refugee writers began with Mieke Ziervogel, publisher of Peirene Press, who journeyed from London to Beirut with editor Suhir Helal after getting in contact with an NGO that runs a community center in the camp. After handpicking the writers during a three-day workshop, the manuscripts were received and translator Nasha Gowanlock got to work. It was a Herculean effort that reminds us that storytelling may be an art, but everyone has a story to tell.


What We Are Reading Today: All the Lives We Ever Lived by Katharine Smyth

Updated 14 February 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: All the Lives We Ever Lived by Katharine Smyth

All the Lives We Ever Lived is an evocative portrait of the deep bond between the author and her dynamic, difficult father. 

Katharine Smyth’s “exploration of grown-up love, the kind that accounts for who the loved one actually is, not who you want him or her to be, gains power and grace as her story unfolds,” said Radhika Jones in a review published in the The New York Times.

“I suspect her book could itself become solace for people navigating their way through the complexities of grief for their fallen idols. And they will be lucky to have it,” the review added.

Smyth is a graduate of Brown University. She has worked for The Paris Review and taught at Columbia University, where she received her MFA in nonfiction. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

A commentary in goodreads.com said the book is “a wise, lyrical memoir about the power of literature to help us read our own lives — and see clearly the people we love most.”