Saturday, October 24, 2020

Promising opening for PalFest 2014

By Eva Jael - June 04, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Culture]
Tags: [culture]

The unexpected cold wind on Saturday didn’t stop people from flocking to the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah for the opening of Palfest 2014—the seventh annual edition of The Palestinian Festival of Literature. The list of well-known authors set to read their poetry and prose made sure of that. As the sun set, the garden filled up with listeners from around Palestine and the world. Huddled together and wrapped in scarves, the crowd prepared for a night of storytelling full of tragedy, controversy and hilarity.
Ahmed Harb, reading an excerpt from his new book, described elements of war torn Palestine. In the story a father has to choose between his two children as he attempts to escape from the Israeli army because he cannot carry them both. The audience was then whisked off to Pakistan, where author Kamila Shamsie is confronted with the fact that she does, in fact, miss her homeland—despite efforts to convince herself otherwise while studying abroad in the United States. Shamsie, the author of seven books and a columnist for The Guardian, has long being trying to attend the Palestinian Festival of Literature. Her absence in years past, said the author, can be chocked up to “the administrative problem otherwise known as having a Pakistani passport.”
We then sailed to the Suez Canal, accompanying two young boys on their journey to England in Michael Ondaatje’s newest novel The Cat’s Table.  But then, the evening very nearly went sour, when the next speaker, Hanne-Vibeke Holst took us to Denmark. The best-selling Danish author read from one of her books, inspired by her first trip to the West Bank and problems that arose, around the same time, due to controversial cartoons published by a Danish newspaper depicting the Prophet Mohammed.
During Holst’s reading many of the attendees glanced around uncomfortably, and some even stood up and left, as they listened to a long piece about a Palestinian suicide bomber about to blow up his girlfriend’s mother. Afterwards Holst answered questions from guests, who were clearly angry over what they deemed to be a portrayal of Palestinians as terrorists. From her answers it becomes clear that her book attempts to address the stereotypes and misconceptions about Arabs in Denmark. This was, however, in no way clear from the passage of her book she chose to read.
After the reading Holst explained more about the rest of the book, bringing clarity to her choice of subject, however, many where left wondering if there wasn’t another part of the book that would have brought across a similar message while avoiding such a denigrating atmosphere. However, Holst explained she was hoping to get some questions about her book, and even though one might disagree with her methods, she was certainly successful in her objective.
To brighten up the mood, the last author, Bridgid Keenan, a founding board member of the festival, read from her book, Diplomatic Baggage, about her experiences as a diplomats wife in countries like Ethiopia, Belgium and Syria. Her stories about ambassadors falling asleep while talking with her, treating the wrong patient in a clinic because she didn’t speak the language and accidently calling important people by the wrong name made the tense audience shake with laughter and forget the previous awkwardness.
In the end the night turned out to be quite a bit more eventful and lively than expected. It succeeded in being all the things that are so wonderful about literature: it was inspiring, funny, at times emotional, and definitely worth braving the cold.

PalFest 2014 will continue the coming week, with events on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at different locations in the West Bank and Israel. Entrance to all events is free. For more information about locations and speakers visit


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