Journal of an Ordinary Grief is more polemical than Memory For Forgetfulness, but Mahmoud Darwish’s lyrical text elicits the same visceral response. To read these books is to share, in some small way, the anguish of exile and loss of homeland. It is a beautiful piece of literature that also serves as a primer to the fate of Palestine and its people.
It is not true that the world has lost its memory. And it is also not true that we can make the world remember by pleasing it. The world wants to relax. It wants to gamble and sip whiskey.
In 1948 Darwish’s family left their village in Palestine, in the expectation of returning after a decisive Arab victory. After a period in exile, on their return they found their village obliterated and their identity revoked (designated present-absentees). Comprised of a series of essays and dialogues, it is the first, The Moon Did Not Fall into the Well, that is most moving, as the narrator as a child questions his older self.
Their waiting was negative, for to them the land meant the specifics of the earth, orchards, and ownership that protected their dignity and livelihood. But for my generation it means – in addition to these – a field of struggle and a future. Longing is a human energy that stays passive. It’s a negative weapon. The struggle has gradually been taking different forms. First came rejection of the status quo and faith in the individual’s ability to bring about change. Then came collective resistance against the forces and conditions that made us citizens without a country, a resistance that does not put itself under siege in memories but sets them free for building a better future in the things that we do every day. Belonging to the land, and the homeland, brings no result unless it means becoming part of the forces joined in the struggle.
Journal of an Ordinary Grief succeeds not only as history and autobiography, but also as a poetic and metaphysical work. Though written in 1973 Darwish’s analysis is no less accurate today.
Such is the world, always: most admiring of collective killing and most critical of individual killing. The state has a right to kill its own people and those belonging to other nations, but the individual does not have a right to fight for the sake of freedom.
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