Short stories from Gaza describe life in the ‘world’s largest prison’

Author Nayrouz Qarmout’s stories are embedded in real events. (Shutterstock)
Updated 08 October 2019

Short stories from Gaza describe life in the ‘world’s largest prison’

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.




“The Sea Cloak and Other Stories” by Nayrouz Qarmout tells about a land where life is lived in bits and pieces. (Supplied)

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.


‘It Must Be Heaven’: Elia Suleiman’s sardonic take on the world

Suleiman, who plays the lead role as himself, explores identity, nationality and belonging. (Supplied)
Updated 23 October 2019

‘It Must Be Heaven’: Elia Suleiman’s sardonic take on the world

MUMBAI: Elia Suleiman’s “It Must Be Heaven,” which was screened at the Mumbai Film Festival, is pure cinema. Like his earlier works, here too the Palestinian director uses wit, sarcasm and minimalism, this time to present a series of vignettes that are funny but also a powerful lambast of the world we live in. Suleiman, who plays the lead role as himself, explores identity, nationality and belonging.

He says people worldwide now live in fear amid global geopolitical tensions. Today, checkpoints are just about everywhere: In airports, shopping malls, cinemas, highways — the list is endless.

“It Must Be Heaven” was screened at the Mumbai Film Festival. (Supplied) 

Suleiman’s earlier features, such as “Chronicle of a Disappearance” and “Divine Intervention,” showed us everyday life in the occupied Palestinian territories. This time, it is Paris and New York. 

The first scene is hilarious, with a bishop trying to enter a church with his followers. The gatekeeper on the other side of the heavy wooden door is probably too intoxicated and refuses to let the priest in, leading to a comical situation. Suleiman’s life in Nazareth is filled with such incidents — snippets that have been strung together to tell us of tension in society. Neighbors turn out to be selfish, and only generous when they know they are being watched. 

The Palestinian director uses wit, sarcasm and minimalism, to present a series of vignettes that are funny but also a powerful lambast of the world we live in. (Supplied)

In Paris, the cafes along the grand boulevards, and the young women who pass by, are typical of France’s capital. But a cut to Bastille Day, with tanks rolling by in a show of strength, jolts us back to harsh reality. In New York, Suleiman’s cab driver is excited at driving a Palestinian. 

The film has an interesting way of storytelling. The scenes begin as observational shots, but the camera quickly changes positions to show Suleiman watching from the other side of the room or a street. The camera then returns to where it first stood, and this back-and-forth movement is delightfully engaging.

The framing is so perfect, and the colors so bright and beautiful, that each scene looks magical. And as the director looks on at all this with his usual deadpan expression, a sardonic twitch at the corner of his mouth, we know all this is but illusion. There is bitter truth ahead!