CHICAGO: The year is 2048 in “Palestine + 100: Stories From a Century After the Nakba” edited by Basma Ghalayini. Twelve authors present their version of Palestine, where bananas grow on the slopes of Ramallah, pineapples flourish in Samaria and where virtual reality seamlessly overlays a desolate life.
Palestinian refugees are “like nomads traveling across a landscape of memory,” writes Ghalayini in her introduction. In 1948, the Nakba saw scores of Palestinian villages and cities destroyed and more than 700,000 Palestinians expelled from their land. As of 2003, it was estimated that 9.6 million descendants lived outside of Palestine and so when Ghalayini writes that for Palestinians “writing is, in part, a search of their lost inheritance, as well as an attempt to keep the memory of that loss from fading,” it is a powerful expression of how storytelling is a tool for preservation.
From virtual reality to extraterrestrial visitors, the twelve authors explore what a free Palestine would look like, or at least the illusion of freedom at the height of digital innovation. Salem Haddad, Majd Kayal, Emad El-Din Aysha, and Abdalmuti Maqbool create parallel words, pushing technological and societal boundaries, where history can be altered, government can be formed virtually and the past can be lived and relived through alternate narratives, but not without a cost.
From Mazen Maarouf comes a superhero and Selma Dabbagh tells of a desperate woman who must sell her kidney for a job. Between Anwar Hamed’s ghosts and Tasnim Abutabikh’s story of a mistaken enemy, each author turns the idea of freedom on its head, questioning the idea of freedom itself. From Rawan Yaghi comes a story of desolate landscapes in which oxygen is in short supply and sedatives are in high demand, and from Samir El-Youssef a story where the study of history is forbidden. Narratives are pushed as Ahmed Masoud explores the possibility of hosting international competitions and Talal Abu Shawish forces communities together when presented with an outside threat.
The story-tellers themselves have a range of perspectives that span over 40 years, from the oldest author in his sixties to the youngest in her twenties. Some have lived in Palestine while others have lived in Palestine through their parents’ or grandparents’ memories. As Samir El-Youssef writes in his short story, “in a country like this, to forget is a sin.”