Though Sahar Khalifeh has been a well-known and highly praised author in the Arab world for a while now, she is on her way to getting the recognition she deserves here in the West. With the endless, never ceasing news on the tragedies happening in Palestine, there is no better time than the present to shed some light on Khalifeh’s recently translated novel My First and Only Love while simultaneously opening a space for the prospering of Arab voices.
Sahar Khalifeh was “born in Nablus, Palestine, in 1941 and is one of the best-known Palestinian women writers. Following an education in Palestine, she obtained a scholarship to study in the United States and whilst there obtained an MA in English Literature from the University of North Carolina, as well as a doctorate in Women’s studies and American Literature from Iowa University. To date she has published nine novels, all of which deal with the situation of the Palestinians under occupation.”
Described by the Börsenblatt Newsletter as a “deeply poetic account of love and resistance through a young girl’s eyes,” this book brought Sahar Khalifeh the title of “the Virginia Woolf of Palestinian literature.”
The following is a summary of the book:
“Nidal, after many decades of restless exile, returns to her family home in Nablus, where she had lived with her grandmother before the 1948 Nakba that scattered her family across the globe. She was a young girl when the popular resistance began and, through the bloodshed and bitter struggle, Nidal fell in love with freedom fighter Rabie. He was her first and only real love―him and all that he represented: Palestine in its youth, the resistance fighters in the hills, the nation as embodied in her family home and in the land.
Many years later, Nidal and Rabie meet, and he encourages her to read her uncle Amin’s memoirs. She immerses herself in the details of her family and national past and discovers the secret history of her absent mother. Filled with emotional urgency and political immediacy, Sahar Khalifeh spins an epic tale reaching from the final days of the British Mandate to today with clear-eyed realism and great imagination.”
Khalifeh’s My First and Only Love showcases the tragedies experienced by the Palestinian people, as well as a dramatic story of love, triumph and struggle. Needless to say, it is more than worth being added to your list of 2021 books-to-read.