Tag Archives: Palestine

Salt Houses Review: Making Magic out of Exile

Courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been woman-crushing on psychologist, poet and writer Hala Alyan for years now. So I was especially pleased to see the Palestinian-American’s debut novel, Salt Houses (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2017), receive heaps of well-deserved praise from everyone including the LA Review of Books to the National.

The book has garnered so much attention in literary circles, it’s even made it on to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s summer reading list. (Note that I interviewed Alyan about her book for Al Jazeera English. The Q&A, which I was ridiculously thrilled to put together, is here).

At its core, Salt Houses is a family drama about the multigenerational-trauma triggered by displacement. The novel, which starts in Nablus with the Six-Day War of 1967 and ends in Beirut with the Lebanon War of 2006, tells the story of the Palestinian diaspora through one well-to-do family, the Yacoubs.

Salt Houses takes us on multiple journeys with eight members of the family as Alyan expertly shifts generations and voice with each chapter. We move with the Yacoubs from Kuwait City and Amman to Boston and beyond, experiencing the intricacies of the aftermath of forced (or self-imposed) exile. Continue reading

The Guardian Temporarily ‘Removes’ Story on Palestinian Music Festival


** Updates to reflect that the Guardian has republished the article with editorial changes

The Guardian temporarily pulled a story on a historic expo featuring “trip-hop” and other artists in Palestine without explanation, saying it was “pending review.” The article was off the site for more than 12 hours and then put back up after being heavily edited. The edits, which I run through below, were quite clearly intended to tone down the language of the initial piece.

The newspaper notes the following at the bottom of the revised article:

This article was taken down for review on 12 April 2017, amended to correct and clarify details and republished on 13 April 2017.

Before the story was republished, I asked for an explanation on Twitter, but obviously received no response. The piece is authored by Tom Horan, a fantastic freelance journalist and culture critic who writes the occasional music story for the newspaper. (I reached out to Horan via email and didn’t hear back from him.)

I find the temporary ‘removal’ of the article fascinating on a number of levels, mostly because that sort of move couldn’t have just been a response to an army of trolls. From a journalistic perspective, an editorial decision like this never comes lightly. Continue reading

The Middle East Has Lost a True Friend in Jo Cox


To so many people across the United Kingdom and indeed the world, the disturbing, tragic murder of Jo Cox still seems utterly incomprehensible.

This was a woman who very visibly cared deeply for others and whose altruism has been described by many as unblemished. Indeed, the more one learns about Jo Cox, the more one realises just how tremendous her compassion was.

Cox was a champion for the less fortunate; for the socially ostracised; for immigrants; for refugees; for women; and for diversity. She was also a genuine friend of the Middle East and the UK’s Muslim community. Continue reading

Words Starting With the Letter P That Arabs Can Actually Pronounce


My fave bit of journalism this week is this New York Times article on an Israeli lawmaker’s comments that Palestine can’t possibly exist because the Arabic alphabet doesn’t contain the letter P.

In the journalistic gem, reporter Isabel Kershner states that “it is rare to meet an Arab who can pronounce the letter P.”

If you’re an Arab, or if have had the misfortune of communicating with Arabs, or living in the Middle East, you’ll know this is something of a fallacy.

I say “something of,” as I acknowledge that the mispronunciation isn’t entirely unheard of. I’m fair that way.

Perhaps your grandBa called you a SuBBer Star as you were growing up, or maybe you’ve been drinking Diet Bebsi all your life, but have never actually been able to bronounce the broblematic word. Continue reading

Dear Gaza


In the six months since I started Florence of Arabia, one of my favourite things about the blog has been the infinite space it’s given me to write embarrassing love letters to some incredible Arab artists, journalists, writers, musicians and film-makers — mostly to spread the word on how much brilliance this troubled region possesses.

It’s the sort of quiet yet powerful talent that you want anyone and everyone to know about. In this vein, I’ve decided to ring in the new year with an intoxicating poem written by an equally intoxicating and talented Palestinian-American poet (who moonlights as a clinical psychologist in New York City): Hala Alyan.

“I’ve written for as long as I can remember,” Alyan said in an e-mail this week. “From a young age, I was enchanted by the prospect of storytelling and playing with language; it was like getting to live a thousand lives.” Continue reading

This Palestinian Woman Wants to Empower Refugees in Lebanon With a Food-truck


Mariam alShaar is no ordinary woman.

She’s Palestinian. She’s a refugee. She’s gentle, yet she’s fierce and passionate. She comes across as being reserved, but she’s known in Lebanon’s Borj el-Barajneh as one of the refugee camp’s most powerful and influential women.

Perhaps most telling: Although Mariam doesn’t call herself a cook, she leads a team of chefs. She’s even launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a food-truck, which she hopes will bring employment to tens of women in Borj el-Barajneh.

Indeed. Mariam is all kinds of extraordinary.

(Side-note: Mariam is also on Susan Sarandon’s radar. And I’ve loved Susan since Thelma and Louise, through to Arbitrage). Continue reading

Kuffiyeh on the Floor: Art or Accident?

Saturday evening, Frieze Art Fair, London.

Lots of obscenely beautiful, hipster-chic people. Expensive artwork that I probably wouldn’t buy even if I could afford it (The cliché around Frieze Art Fair is glitz,” the Independent reports).

It’s fun to look at, though. Not to mention the event presents the perfect opportunity to do some serious people-watching.

I wander around aimlessly before inadvertently, clumsily dropping my kuffiyeh (scarf) on the floor. No one in my immediate vision appears to have seen this occur.

Continue reading

Married to the Palestinian Cause


Documentary: Trip Along Exodus (2014)

Director/producer/writer: Hind Shoufani
Where: Screened at RichMix (London Premiere, July 11, 2015) as part of the East End Film Festival; to be released online by director

“Considering the work I wanted to do, I should never have gotten married.”

“I might be wrong, and my thinking may be flawed, but to me, politics is everything in life.” — Dr. Elias Shoufani (1932 – 2013).


Watching Hind Shoufani’s deeply personal examination of her father Dr. Elias’s life from the comfort of an east London cinema felt a little like I was peering into someone else’s living room.

In a series of interviews with his daughter, Dr. Shoufani tells the story of how and why he gave up a cushy career as an academic at Princeton and the University of Maryland as well as a doting Peruvian-American wife at the age of 40 to move back to the Middle East and join the Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut in the 1970s.
Continue reading