Native: Dispatches from an Israeli-Palestinian Life collects columns that Sayed Kashua—who teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—wrote for the newspaper Haaretz.
How does living in Illinois compare to living in Israel?
I love it, honestly. In the beginning I found it a very flat place but now I’m so happy that I’m here—mainly because the kids are happy, and my wife is happy, and you know from the book that you’ve got to make my wife happy. Whatever makes her happy, I will do it. But I also feel sad, though we’re glad not to be [back in Israel]. It’s easier on my kids; they don’t feel pressure in their schools. They have less complicated questions about Jewish and Arab identity now. So it’s a mixed feeling.
I enjoy how your wife functions as a character in Native. How does she feel about playing straight man to your jokes?
I pay a lot of money to stop her from suing me.
What’s your take on the American understanding of the situation in Israel?
The Israeli-Palestinian tensions? From what I see in the media, I don’t think Americans are aware of what it really means to be a Palestinian caught in Israel, and of course they have no idea what it means to be a Palestinian in the West Bank. In the media here—the other day, my boys wanted to watch Back to the Future. So we ordered it, and I completely forgot about that terrorist attack at the beginning, with the Libyans, and my children turned to me and said, “The Libyans look like you! Are the Arabs like you?”
How is it different being an Arab writer here in the U.S.?
Here, as with European audiences, I don’t need to think so much about how the reader is going to react. I feel like I need less to censor myself. My writing is still very political, both the novel I’m working on and the weekly columns for Haaretz. There’s also the business that the [Israeli-Palestinian] situation is getting worse, so I use much less humor than I used before.
What do you hope your American readers will take away from your book?
To enjoy reading it, to laugh while reading, and then discover that I fooled them, and actually it was supposed to be sad. And maybe to look again at reality, even the reality of their own lives, differently. So if that happens—that trick of reading something like a joke and then realizing a few minutes afterwards, that’s actually very sad—that would be great. To make people sadly happy.