On July 2nd 2007 we discussed The Inheritance (Al Mirath) by Sahar Khalifeh.
A powerful and richly layered story, The Inheritance probes through social and cultural complexities, from the hopes and ambitions revived by Oslo, the quest for identity, and the role of Palestinian women in shaping their social and political lives. This book presents a broad picture of Arab Palestinian society following the 1967 war, where the individual and the family were to some extent defeated, resulting in a defeated society. Given this context the inheritance the characters fight of over or are ceded is rather symbolic: from land under the shadow of growing settlements, to half forgotten stories of an estranged father, to a sewage company that, given the lack of water resources allotted to the Palestinian territories, is doomed to failure.
We talked about the conflict between civilizations resulting from mixed marriages, from clashes of cultural understanding to children torn between two different / opposite cultures. Kahlifeh’s characters to a large extent view this as a bit of an either/or choice between cultures- but the group felt that in reality, it can be more of a melding. As the growing Palestinian Diaspora is in large part separated from family, we wondered about how conflicts between civilizations is part of the Palestinian Diaspora’s psyche.
We found the difference between the Arabic and English versions fairly stark, with the English readers finding the langague and wording a little flat, devoid of nuance, and the Arabic readers finding more subtly and cultural references. Even those who spoke Arabic but read the text in English were able to hear through the translation more of these references, as well as the shifts between colloquial and classical Arabic that Khalifeh uses rather adeptly but which were lost, in larger part, on those who read the English translation.
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