Midway through Salt Houses — the stunning debut novel by Hala Alyan about four generations of Palestinian women navigating the travails of dispersion and diaspora — I had a disquieting realization of familiarity. I felt like I knew this story—and not because I knew the particulars of the story. Nor am I particularly well-versed in the history of Palestinian dislocation except as the aftermath, as the tragic countertext, of what I know and celebrate of Zionism and Israeli history.
It was familiar, rather, because this was our story. It was the story of a people on the journey to become A People, caught in the no-man’s land of possessing a collective consciousness but lacking the instruments to translate it, effectively and recognizably, into processes of self-determination; it was a story of alienation from a beloved land which over time rendered the land itself more symbolic than real; it told of pining for return, in spite of—perhaps because of—political circumstances that make that Return, as a right or as a responsibility, completely implausible; it murmured with the sense of incompleteness in diaspora; it spoke of the ways in which The Land takes on both mystical-poetic qualities as well as constituting a site for a totally de-terrestrialized political identity; and, of course, it embedded as one of its core concerns the anxiety of assimilation and fear of forgetting that can plague a people’s consciousness for centuries on end. All of these are Jewish. And not just Jewish; this restlessness is the psychological, spiritual epicenter of Jewishness as it has been enacted, transacted, and transmitted for centuries.
Yehuda Kurtzer, “Unsettled”, Tablet (5 June 2017) [http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/235527/unsettled-2]