by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
Thanks to Partner NetGalley for the digital ARC of Susan Abulhawa’s Against the Loveless World in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, August 25, 2020.
I requested Susan Abulhawa’s Against the Loveless World after absolutely loving her novel Mornings in Jenin. This one is, for me, even better.
Nahr, the protagonist, is complicated. She’s by turns selfless and selfish. She tells her story from The Cube, a “modern” prison that has removed all connection to the outside world, where she’s been for years, and yet she still fights, refusing to let others define her or control her. Sometimes, the only power she has is whether to face her guards or to face the wall when she’s chained to it, but that’s a power she wields with ferocity.
Nahr embodies the multiple identities that many women have, the masks they’re forced to wear because of society’s expectations. Growing up in Kuwait as the daughter of Palestinian refugees, she’s aware of the tenuousness of her life with her family: her mother, her brother Jehad, and her grandmother. Yet, when even the small amount of stability they have is taken from them, Nahr acts to save her family, to preserve their sense of security while facing the truth head on. She prostitutes herself to save them, and then defies those who take advantage of her or who try to shame her for doing what she had to for survival. She resists, at every turn, the judgment of others and instead lifts up her own self assessment.
In Mornings in Jenin, Abulhawa told the story of the creation of Israel from the perspective of Palestinian families. Here, watching the U.S. invasion of Iraq through Nahr’s eyes is another of those perspective-shifting moments in a book that I so appreciate. It requires a reorientation of assumed history, a shift to another point of view.
As Nahr, stuck in The Cube, flashes back to tell her story, each new chapter reveals a new stage in her life, taking the reader through her time in Jordan and then, ultimately, to Palestine. Seeing her return to a country she has known only through stories, watching her come to understand her identity differently with each new revelation about her family and their former home, is both beautiful and heartbreaking.
Nahr’s story deals often with love--with love between family members, with both romantic and sexual love, and with the potential disconnect between the two. She defines these words for herself with definitions shaped by her life and experiences.
Against the Loveless World is literary fiction, but often, that calls forth images of a slow-moving, contemplative novel. Here, yes, the writing is gorgeous, and I found myself highlighting sentences on almost every page, lured in by prose that is both spare and evocative. But the book is also fast paced, and Nahr’s story is so, so compelling. I sped through, eager to find out how she ended up in The Cube and what course her story would take.
I really cannot recommend Susan Abulhawa’s Against the Loveless World more. What a gorgeous, perfect novel.
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