CHICAGO: From the Gaza Strip comes a collection of short stories about growing up and coming of age in the “world’s largest prison.”
“The Sea Cloak and Other Stories” by Nayrouz Qarmout tells about a land where life is lived in bits and pieces, its joys cherished and sorrows familiar.
Each story is filled with vivid memories of places, events, scents, houses and people that if not recorded could so easily have been lost in time.
Qarmout begins her collection with a young woman watching the Mediterranean Sea, Gaza’s coastline brimming with families, tents and the smell of roasting sweetcorn.
The narrator’s family spends a rare day at the beach. She describes her sisters gossiping, her brothers grilling fish and talking politics and war, her mother tidying their tent, while her father gazes out to sea. The young girl wants to be free like the waves, and so in her black dress and veil sets out.
Between a young woman attempting to discover herself in a place where her life is bound by politics and societal pressures, an older woman walks her donkey cart along a mountain path between the village of Al-Khader and the Efrat settlement to her grape vines, all she has left after the death of husband.
Life is tough near the settlements, relationships strained, and friendships cautious. Security forces shoot first and ask questions later.
In more than one story, Qarmout’s path to freedom is the one that leads to school and education. For everyone, life is lived amid rubble and painful memories but also with an innate resilience, to take care of their families, communities and themselves.
Qarmout’s stories are embedded in real events, her characters live through bombardment, gun battles, mortar attacks, disappointment, fear and lost love with heartbreaking determination.
One frustrated character, Ziad, said: “I stood up for my principles and for my liberty. So, tell me: Where is the land my father promised would be mine again? It’s getting further and further away. Peace has escaped. Hope has fled.”
Between the family who has spent a week in hiding and a young girl practicing patriotic songs, life is lived, even if it is difficult.
Qarmout is an author and women’s rights activist. She was born in Damascus but returned to Gaza in 1994.