This is another in a series of reviews of new books on Middle Eastern affairs. We asked Dr. Gail Weigl, an APN volunteer and a professor of art history, to review the book Seeking Palestine, edited by Penny Johnson and Raja Shehadeh.
What does it mean to be an exile from Palestine? Is it defined merely by physical dislocation, or is it less tied to a place than to an idea, to a Palestine that once or perhaps never existed, to a pervasive sense of being displaced, even from a land that was not the land of one’s birth? The essays that compose Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home examine notions of exile, of Palestine, of Palestinian identity in diaspora from the perspectives of poets, academics, novelists, artists and independent writers living as outcasts from a country that never existed as a nation-state, the idea of which calls forth irrepressible longing for a way of life known only through memories, many of those not memories of their own. These writers ask themselves what it means to cling to an identity, a way of life, a set of grievances across generations, and whether the persistence of an idea and an identity can persuade the world at large to seriously address the Palestinian longing to return to their homeland.