Book Launch: ‘The Storyteller of Jerusalem’

On January 23 at the Mosaic Rooms, translator Dr. Nada Elzeer, publisyher Michel Moushabeck, and author of the book’s forward, Rachel Beckles Willson, will come together to launch The Storyteller of Jerusalem: The Life and Times of Wasif Jawhariyyeh, 1904-1948:

downloadThe book, newly published this year, is a collection of Jawhariyyeh’s memoirs, which give his views and commentary on Ottoman and British-mandate Palestine, with a “coda” from Beirut. Jawhariyyeh, who was born in 1897, was a celebrated musician, an ethnographer, and a poet. His father was a successful lawyer and the mukhtar of Jerusalem’s Eastern Orthodox community.

But Jawhariyyeh doesn’t write from a position of authority. Instead, his memoirs open:

“I am no skilled writer, famous historian, or experienced traveler. I am simply a civil servant who was forced out of school by the First Great War. But I feel compelled to document situations, surprises, and incidents which emerged in my life during the Ottoman and the British periods in my country of Palestine, some of which are amusing.”

Throughout the memoirs, there are many bright moments from Jerusalem in particular, such as Hajj Jawdat performing oral stories in Jerusalem cafes in the winter:

The storyteller used to sit on a high platform at the most central spot in the cafe so that he could be seen and heard by everyone. Then, he would loudly read to them the stories of Antara and Abla, Abu Zaid al-Hilali, and Prince Umara, for these were tales with morals on heroism, chivalry, virtue, and knighthood. Hajj Jawdat bin Moussa al-Halabi, who was one of hte well-known Muslim figures of Jerusalem in his younger years, was particularly fond of reading these tales, which he did at the cafe of Abdul-Latif in Bab Hatta, drawing large crowds of people who came all the way from al-Baq’aa al-Fawqa in cold and rainy weather, and stayed until midnight.

Jawhariyyeh also writes about varied characters, including “The Great Arab Literary Figure, Mr. Muhammad Is’af al-Nashashibi,” the singer Zaki Murad, who was the father of Layla Murad, and his primary-school teacher, none other than the great educator Khalil Sakakini.

The book was also launched last month in Ramallah, at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre. At the Mosaic Rooms event, the opening talk will be followed by “readings from the memoirs by actor Philip Arditti, interwoven with Arab music performed by Maria Lopez da Cunha (voice), Ahmad AlSalhi (violin), Rachel Beckles Willson (oud), Martin Stokes (qanun), Michel Moushabeck (percussion).”

The event is free, but you should RSVP to