This book is from 1997, but the continuing relevance of its themes -- displacement, refugee crises, time, memory, and the ability of art to address situations affecting millions--make reading it feel painfully fresh. Every joy that Barghouti feels during his return to his home in Palestine, the first visit in 30 years, is paired with an equal measure of disorientation and loss. A tangled web of thoughts and memories sprouts with every step he takes. I re-read every sentence in this book at least twice, amazed and transported, feeling lucky to have such an affecting glimpse into a rich and complex life.
A fierce and moving work and an unparalleled rendering of the human aspects of the Palestinian predicament.
Barred from his homeland after 1967’s Six-Day War, the poet Mourid Barghouti spent thirty years in exile—shuttling among the world’s cities, yet secure in none of them; separated from his family for years at a time; never certain whether he was a visitor, a refugee, a citizen, or a guest. As he returns home for the first time since the Israeli occupation, Barghouti crosses a wooden bridge over the Jordan River into Ramallah and is unable to recognize the city of his youth. Sifting through memories of the old Palestine as they come up against what he now encounters in this mere “idea of Palestine,” he discovers what it means to be deprived not only of a homeland but of “the habitual place and status of a person.” A tour de force of memory and reflection, lamentation and resilience, I Saw Ramallah is a deeply humane book, essential to any balanced understanding of today’s Middle East.
About the Author
MOURID BARGHOUTI was born in the West Bank in 1944 and graduated from Cairo University in 1967. His poems have been published in Beirut, Amman, and Cairo, and his collected works were published in Beirut in 1997. He lives in Cairo.
Ahdaf Soueif was born in Cairo and educated in Egypt and England. She is the author of the novels In the Eye of the Sun and The Map of Love and the story collections Aisha and Sandpiper.
Edward W. Said is University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Orientalism, Culture and Imperialism, and a memoir, Out of Place.
“The most eloquent statement in English of what it is like to be a Palestinian today. . . . No other book so well explains the background to recent events in Palestine/Israel.” —The Times Literary Supplement
“An important literary event. . . . One of the finest existential accounts of Palestinian displacement that we now have.” —Edward W. Said, from the Foreword
“Forceful, lyrical, evocative. . . . A wonderful read.” —The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
“Stirring. . . . Poignant. . . . Compelling. . . . I Saw Ramallahis a magnificent addition to world literature. It is picturesque and lifelike. Its evocative images touch, move, and inspire.” –Middle East Studies Association Bulletin
“Marvelous. . . . A beautifully constructed and moving memoir.” –Al-Ahram Weekly
“An honest and lyrical account from the Palestinian Diaspora. . . . This book describes in detail the damage done to the Palestinian people in the most beautiful prose. . . . Because of his frankness and calm tone, Barghouti has ensured that this life story will stay with the reader a long time after all the shouting and politicking stops.” –Cairo Times
“A rare memoir. . . . Humane and eloquent.” –In These Times