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

Updated 17 July 2018

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

  • “Shatila Stories” is a collaborative work of fiction written by nine refugees from the Shatila camp in Beirut

CHICAGO: A novel born in extraordinary circumstances, “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. After Reham, the reader is told the story of Jafra, named after the revolutionary Palestinian fighter who was killed in an airstrike in 1976. 

Evil lurks within the boundaries of the Shatila camp — 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: Down from Olympus

Updated 06 July 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Down from Olympus

Since the publication of Eliza May Butler’s Tyranny of Greece over Germany in 1935, the obsession of the German educated elite with the ancient Greeks has become an accepted, if severely underanalyzed, cliché. In Down from Olympus, Suzanne Marchand attempts to come to grips with German Graecophilia, not as a private passion but as an institutionally generated and preserved cultural trope. 

The book argues that 19th-century philhellenes inherited both an elitist, normative aesthetics and an ascetic, scholarly ethos from their Romantic predecessors; German “neohumanists” promised to reconcile these intellectual commitments, and by so doing, to revitalize education and the arts. 

Focusing on the history of classical archaeology, Marchand shows how the injunction to imitate Greek art was made the basis for new, state-funded cultural institutions. 

Tracing interactions between scholars and policymakers that made possible grand-scale cultural feats like the acquisition of the Pergamum Altar.