A Long Walk from Gaza

Former Palestinian war reporter Asmaa Alatawna's searing debut novel, A Long Walk from Gaza, is an unblinking examination of a woman's coming-of-age in Gaza, and her onerous journey to find "somewhere new--quiet and safe--where [she] could just live." Significant parallels with Alatawna's own background--including sharing her name with her protagonist--suggest she draws heavily from her own life.

Asmaa's two-part story begins in Toulouse, where her lawyer is working to "legitimize and legalize [her] stay in France." Part One, "Leave," tracks Asmaa's perilous escape from "the giant hell of the open-air prison" that was Gaza to Spain and then France. Part Two, "Return," chronicles Asmaa's left-behind life as the fourth daughter in a Palestinian Bedouin family without sons, straining against gendered expectations, "regularly beat[en] into submission" by her parents, attacked by teachers, and bearing witness to fatal violence in her community. All the while, the relentless threat of kidnapping, rape, and murder by the Israeli occupation soldiers looms. In young adulthood, Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Brontë, and Louisa May Alcott save Asmaa's life: women writers "infuse[d] my soul with a spark of life that ignited my sense of freedom and lit my path."

Originally published in Arabic in 2019, Alatawna's unadorned prose and unrestrained narrative is empathically rendered by literary translators Caline Nasrallah and Michelle Hartman. Their ending note is especially wrenching: "We finished the translation... during the unfolding of a genocide in Gaza.... We watched the places mentioned in this book, the houses, businesses, schools, hospitals, and lives be bombarded and destroyed live on our phones." Unexpectedly, poignantly, Alatawna's intimate history becomes "a testament to a Gaza that will never be the same." --Terry Hong

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