Written by the refugees themselves, this highly original anthology of Palestinians forced to live outside their homeland brings together stories of what it means to be exiled, reflections on the events that led to being displaced, and the raw experience of daily life in a camp. Edited and translated by Muhammad Ali Khalidi with an introduction by Perla Issa.
The 11 lives given voice here are unique, each an expression of the myriad displacements that war and occupation have forced upon Palestinians since the Nakba of 1948. At the same time, they form a collective testament of a people driven from their homes and land by colonial occupation. Each story is singular; and each tells the story of all Palestinians.
As Edward Said argued in 1984, the object of Israel’s colonial warfare is not only material—seeking to minimise Palestinian existence as such—but is also a narrative project that aims to obliterate Palestinian history “as possessed of a coherent narrative direction pointed towards self-determination.”
In these pages, Palestinian refugees narrate their own histories. The product of a creative-writing workshop organized by the Institute for Palestine Studies in Lebanon, 11 Lives tells of children’s adventures in the alleyways of refugee camps, of teenage martyrs and ghosts next-door, of an UNRWA teacher’s dismay at the shallowness of her colleagues, and of the love, labour, and land that form the threads of a red keffiyeh.
What unites these 11 stories is “the inadmissible existence of the Palestinian people” highlighted by Said. Their words persist, as one contributor writes, “between the Nakba and the Naksa, throughout defeats and massacres, love affairs and revolutions.” The stories of Palestinians in exile are also open-ended, and will continue to reverberate across borders until Palestine is free.
“This marvelous book lifts the veil of anonymity that has long concealed the reality of refugees, not as UN statistics, but as human beings with stories to tell.”
—Ghada Karmi, Palestinian doctor, writer, and Research Fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter
“Vivid accounts of a world we know too little about”
—Caryl Churchill, playwright
“This is a book of remarkable lives, written by remarkable people, whose stories are to savour”
—Elizabeth Laird, children’s fiction and travel writer
“Stories about contemporary Palestinians are few and far between in English, let alone stories told in—and by—non-elite, diasporic Palestinian voices. The volume brings a vibrancy and vitality to these stories that reminds the reader of the multitudinous experience of Palestinian refugees”
—Ghenwa Hayek, Associate Professor of Modern Arabic Literature, University of Chicago
“The triumph of this unique book is how it manages to unite the indomitable spirit of Palestinian survival with the transformative potential of first-person narratives. 11 Lives is a deeply humane, precisely detailed, and intimately drawn collection of refugee stories that reveals more about life as a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon—with all the major pitfalls, daily joys, and absolute steadfastness—than any newspaper report, academic treatise, or NGO study ever could.”
—Moustafa Bayoumi, award winning author of The Muslim American Life
“Offers an assiduous, kaleidoscopic look at life for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon against the tide of a literary supply-chain that demands extractive and paternalistic refugee stories, seldom written by refugees themselves.”
—Mohammed El-Kurd, Palestinian writer and poet