#IsraelPalestineSeries: All The Rivers & Ishmael's Oranges | No.5
All The Rivers by Dorit Rabinyan & Ishmael's Oranges by Claire Hajaj
All the Rivers and Ishmael's Oranges are both stories about mixed Israeli-Palestinian couples. I love both of these books, and highly recommend them. I've written briefly about them both before on my blog so I will link to the post of All The Rivers here, and Ishmael's Oranges here. But what I have been meaning to do for a long time is compare the stories as they have similar themes and both were published around the same time by female authors.
Published: May 2014 (English Version: March 2017)
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
Original Language: Hebrew (גדר חיה)
All The River's is a love story about an Israeli girl (Liat) and a Palestinian guy (Hilmi) in their twenties who meet and fall in love in New York. The author, Rabinyan, is Israeli and originally wrote the book in Hebrew, which was rejected from the curriculum in Israeli schools causing a storm around the book being 'banned'. It has now been published in multiple languages all over the world and is an international bestseller.
Novel: Ishmael's Oranges by Claire Hajaj
Original Language: English
Ishmael's Oranges tells the story of Salim, a Palestinian from Jaffa who flees the country as a child once the state of Israel is established. Much later he moves to London and falls in love with Jude, a Jew. The two get married and have two children but eventually the toll of the Arab-Israeli conflict wears away their relationship. The author, Hajaj, is a British journalist and the daughter of a Palestinian father and Jewish mother, she draws on much of her own experiences in the book.
Dorit Rabinyan (ATR): Rabinyan is an Israeli writer and screenwriter. She is 44 years old and was born into an Iranian Jewish family. Prior to ATR, she published two novels Persian Brides and A Strand of a Thousand Pearls.
Claire Hajaj (IO): Hajaj spent her childhood between England and the Middle East and has a Palestinian father and Jewish mother. She worked as a journalist for the BBC World Service and she also worked in various war zones for the UN. IO is her first novel.
Love Story vs. Family Story
Perhaps it is unfair to compare these novels as two love stories. Although ATR definitely falls into this category I wouldn't necessarily call IO a love story but a story about a family.
IO: This is really about the struggle of children with mixed Palestinian and Israeli heritage growing up outside of the region. The book covers the difficulties of exposing them to both of these cultures and their place within both sides of their family.
Salim wants the children to have a distinct Palestinian identity, the family also live in Kuwait for a while so they are more exposed to Arab culture. Yet Jude is keen to give the children a sense of their Jewish identity even though little things like having the children light candles and say Jewish prayers on shabbat. Jude also has pro-Israel views which cause clashes with Salim's family.
The story does follow Jude and Salim's early days meeting in London, yet there isn't such a strong sense of romance as is found in ATR.
ATR: Both Liat and Hilmi struggle to reveal their relationships to their respective families. Liat lies to her family and tells them she's seeing a Greek guy. Her sister finds out she's dating a Palestinian and is less than impressed, the mere thought of it being revealed to her parents keeps Liat on edge. Hilmi introduces his brother and friends to Liat but it only leads to heated debates about the conflict between Liat and Hilmi's brother.
As a love story I hate how often these two get high together but other than that I think there is something quite sweet about the two of them. Rabinyan's writing is beautiful. Unfortunately I no longer have the book to hand as I read a library copy but there were huge chunks of text describing their time spent together that really just made me melt.
Time Period Setting/Countries
IO: The combination of backgrounds and the way this book travels through time is beautiful. The story starts with the birth of Israel in 1948 and ends in the 1980s. We see the changing tone from the creation of Israel right up until the brink of the second intifada although the majority of the book does not take place in Israel during these 40 years. The family live in Kuwait and the UK, and there are brief periods in Lebanon too. It's interesting seeing Salim, Jude, and their children navigate their identities in all of these places.
ATR: ATR is not as varied in terms of setting as IO. It is set mostly in New York, with a little period in Israel and Palestine at the end, and the book takes place in the early noughties post-9/11.
The Arab-Israeli conflict really is its own character in both of these stories and shapes the relationships of both of these couples.
ATR: The conflict becomes an issue for Liat and Hilmi in their relationship. Although Liat is not necessarily a staunch nationalist she finds herself defending Israel so much when encountering sides of Hilmi that stand in such opposition to Israel. This is made even worse when she meets his family who are all very anti-Israel and she is desperate to make the case for her country to them.
One thing I love about this story is how it shows the importance of relationships in humanising the conflict. In an interview with the NY Times Rabinyan said "She [Liat] takes him out of the multitude and acknowledges his humanity, her humanity. He’s not the Palestinian people. He’s one person."
I mentioned the conflict being a character and this is echoed by Rabinyan in her NY Times interview when she states "Still, the book is tightly woven around the conflict. “This is what we call ‘the situation.’” she said. “It’s like the climate. Another season of the year, a fifth one.”
IO: The conflict plays a much more destructive role in this story than ATR. I think this is because IO is a story about a family so you see the conflict tear them apart, both the parents from one another and then the impact this has on the children and how they relate to their parents. However ATR just sees the conflict affect a short relationship between two young people, which although tragic is not so catastrophic.
Both of these stories also have unhappy endings (I won't say more than that) but the ending of ATR has no connection to the conflict whilst the sad ending of IO does.
IO: I don't think IO is as well known as ATR which is a shame because I think both stories are amazing. That being said although IO has less ratings on Goodreads it is slightly higher rated. The book also has not been followed by any major controversies in the same way ATR has.
ATR: As I mentioned at the start ATR was rejected from the curriculum in Israeli's schools, however this is often sensationalised with many people reporting the book was banned in Israeli schools. (I for one believed it was banned until a did a little research to write this blog post!) However this 'ban' caused the sales to double. It's interesting that a love story like this when published in Hebrew for an Israeli audience is seen as so controversial. I'm not an Israeli and I can't give you any insight into why it was so. I have done a little research and the Israeli Ministry of Education banned it on the grounds that it promotes intermarriage and assimilation. You can read a lot more on the ban on Rabinyans official website here.
Overall I really love both of these books and would encourage everybody to read them. They highlight the importance of relationships across the Israeli-Palestinian divide but also the difficulty of maintaining these relationships.