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This review is taken from PN Review 198, Volume 37 Number 4, February - March 2011.

EXPLODING WATERMELONS MAHMOUD DARWISH, Journal of an Ordinary Grief, translated by Ibrahim Muhawi (Archipelago Books) $16.00

Following three years of military service Israeli soldiers receive a bonus of fifteen thousand shekels - approximately £2,600 - at which point thousands head for the hill stations of Himachal Pradesh in Northern India. To some, it is a journey of self-exploration; to others, one of hedonism. Some even refuse to return. This minority are encouraged to reconsider. If this proves unsuccessful, they are forcibly repatriated: they are a resource, and a scarce one. As indeed, are minds both able and willing to produce a compassionate portrait of Israel and Palestine over the course of the past seventy years, and Mahmoud Darwish, who died in 2008, was one of them.

This Journal, a memoir written during his house arrest in Haifa prior to his exile from Israel in 1971, attempts such a portrait - despite the lack of means at his disposal; for as he puts it in 'The Homeland', the second chapter: 'the map does not constitute an answer, because it is very much like an abstract painting. And your grandfather's grave is not the answer because a small forest can make it disappear.' Through a mixture of imagined dialogues with his younger self and soliloquies, the Journal begins with a re-telling of his family's loss of their ancestral lands in al-Birwa, near Haifa. As the war unfolds, we see his grandfather take his family on a 'picnic' to Lebanon in 1949. Their return, a few months later, when the reality of their situation had sunk ...

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