More of Ibrahim Nasrallah’s ‘Palestinian Comedy’ Makes It Into English: ‘Gaza Weddings’

Ibrahim Nasrallah’s Gaza Weddings is his fifth novel to be translated into English:

From a review in The National:

Some Gazans brag that they can identify a weapon by its sound, according to Randa, the character who opens Gaza Weddings.

The co-narrator of Ibrahim Nasrallah’s slim novel says she has no such talent. “I mean, when all the sleep you get is a tiny snooze that you manage to fall into by a miracle in the wee hours of the morning, how are you going to be able to tell the difference between banging on a door and bombs going off?”

Loud noises aren’t the only things the characters in Gaza Weddings are unable to tell apart. The book, translated by Nancy Roberts and newly published by Hoopoe Fiction, is alternately narrated by Randa, an aspiring journalist, and her neighbour Amna. Both of them mix up people, places, deaths and times.

Gaza Weddings, first published in Arabic in 2004, is part of Nasrallah’s Palestinian Comedy project, an eight-novel series in the spirit of Balzac’s La Comédie Humaine.

The series has a wide scope, with settings that range from the fictional village of Hadiya during the 17th century Ottoman Empire to Gaza during the First Intifada.

Nasrallah’s Time of White Horses, which opens in the 1680s and continues to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is nearly 600 pages of deeply researched social and cultural history that, the author has said, took him more than two decades to write. Gaza Weddings is a markedly different book. This is a slender, ghostly novel, built around wordplay, swapped identities and women. The books are two different histories of two very different Palestines.

“A Palestinian living in the Gaza Strip… has experienced different political and social conditions to those experienced by another living on the West Bank,” Nasrallah said in a 2012 talk at the University of Sheffield. “I would say there are Palestinian peoples, and not a single Palestinian people.”

The two characters who tell us about the world in Gaza Weddings are Amna, a physical therapist who talks to her missing husband, and Randa, who speaks directly to the reader.

We see almost nothing of Randa’s identical twin Lamis, although even their mother can’t tell the two women apart. Only Amna’s son Saleh knows who is who.

Grown men are almost entirely absent in this novel. Randa and Lamis’s father has been in an Israeli prison for years, while teenage Saleh’s father is in hiding.

The boy was only two months old when his father was first arrested, and, since then, Amna has had mostly stolen encounters with her husband. She describes how he snuck up and followed her, hoping to have a few moments alone, and she no longer recognised him.

Amna narrates: “I remember that time when I didn’t know who you were, and I said, ‘Shame on you! What’s an old man like you doing running after a girl half his age!’ Then you started to laugh your head off, and if you hadn’t, I never would have recognised you.”

Keep reading the review at The National.

Read an extract from the beginning of the novel, trans. Nancy Roberts.