cover image Nine Quarters of Jerusalem: A New Biography of the Old City

Nine Quarters of Jerusalem: A New Biography of the Old City

Matthew Teller. Other Press, $27.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-63542-334-1

British journalist Teller (Quite Alone) comes up short in his effort “to address the imbalance in stories—or narratives, or ideas—that exist about Jerusalem.” Contending that “Palestinian lives and voices have been too often excluded,” Teller explores the cultural diversity of Jerusalem with an emphasis on the stories of the “unlistened-to.” He details the prosaic lives of Palestinian individuals and flavors their stories with colorful details, such as when he chronicles the history of the “most famous” hummus shop in the city and describes the founder’s process of mashing chickpeas by hand. The author probes cultural frictions and biases, relating the story of a Dom woman who, after enduring a childhood marked by discrimination, founded a nonprofit to provide social services to the Dom community, descendants of the itinerant Domba people of India who settled around the Middle East. Discussions of Jerusalem’s history and geography, as well as the arbitrary imperial division of the city into four quarters, are competent but unlikely to surprise those familiar with the basic outline of the city’s past. Additionally, incomplete accounts of the 1948 war and the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, as well as baroque phrasing (the partition of British Palestine in 1947 is labeled “that geriatric tantrum from the 1930s rebranded as the two-state solution”) drag this down. Readers interested in a more nuanced look at Jerusalem will be better served by Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Jerusalem. (Sept.)