cover image Enter Ghost

Enter Ghost

Isabella Hammad. Grove, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8021-6238-0

Hammad (The Parisian) offers a soul-stirring and dramatic tale of a Palestinian family’s exile and reconciliation. Sisters Sonia and Haneen Nasir grew up in London in the 1980s and ’90s and visited their paternal grandparents in Haifa on holidays, where their grandparents remained after many other Palestinians were displaced by Israeli statehood in 1948. Now approaching 40, Sonia is an actor in London, while her older sister, Haneen, lives in Haifa, one of the few Palestinian faculty members at a university in Tel Aviv. Sonia’s marriage has failed, and after ending an affair, she visits Haneen. There, she meets the outspoken Mariam Mansour, who is directing an all-Palestinian production of Hamlet, translated into classical Arabic, in the occupied West Bank, and who convinces Sonia to play Gertrude. The production breathes new life into Shakespeare’s text, suggesting for instance whether Palestine itself is “to be or not to be.” However, funding cuts by the Palestinian Authority and draconian attempts from the Israeli government to enforce cultural loyalty hamper the production, leaving Mariam to play the lead herself. Against the backdrop of violent struggles over the al-Aqsa Mosque, and a vivid image of hundreds of Muslim men peacefully bowing in prayer in the streets of East Jerusalem when Israeli authorities close off the mosque compound for “security concerns,” the troupe stages an opening-night outdoor performance. The layered text, rich in languages and literary references, dives deep into Sonia’s consciousness, illustrating her hopes for what art can accomplish. This deeply human work will stay with readers. (Apr.)