Fragmented Love in Alison Glick’s “The Other End of the Sea”

16 May, 2022
Banksy, the anony­mous British artist, paint­ed an open­ing to the sea on Israel’s Sep­a­ra­tion Wall in Abu Dis (pho­to Mar­co Di Lauro/Getty Images).

 

The Oth­er End of the Sea, a nov­el by Ali­son Glick
Inter­link Books, 2022
ISBN 9781623719586

 

Nora Lester Murad

 

It would be easy to focus on the Jew­ish pro­tag­o­nist in Ali­son Glick’s debut nov­el The Oth­er End of the Sea. After all, it was the search for her roots that first took Rebec­ca Klein to Israel. But like the author, whose vis­it to Israel “opened her eyes to the real­i­ties for Pales­tini­ans liv­ing under Israeli con­trol,” the pro­tag­o­nist, too, was cap­ti­vat­ed not by Israel, but by Palestine.

Avail­able from Inter­link.

The premise — a US Jew who evolves to sup­port Pales­tin­ian rights — is more than plau­si­ble. Increas­ing­ly, Jew­ish Amer­i­cans are becom­ing informed about Israeli his­to­ry, and they are more vocal in cri­tiquing Israel’s poli­cies — Peter Beinart being only one case among many who are speak­ing out and tak­ing action based on the prin­ci­ple of lib­er­a­tion for all.

But The Oth­er End of the Sea is not anoth­er pro-Pales­tin­ian screed, it is a bona fide love sto­ry, com­plete with the ten­der­ness, pain, inti­ma­cy and mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion that define any roman­tic relationship.

In this nar­ra­tive, Rebec­ca Klein meets Zayn Maj­dalawi in the ear­ly 1980s in a taxi cab as both try to find a way out of Gaza. Zayn is a refugee from Shati camp study­ing in the West Bank, where Rebec­ca works as a teacher in the Quak­er school. Even this plot point — a US Jew falling in love with a Pales­tin­ian Mus­lim — is con­ceiv­able. In fact, I myself am an Amer­i­can Jew­ish woman who mar­ried a Pales­tin­ian Mus­lim, and in our near­ly forty years togeth­er, we have met many oth­er “mixed” couples.

The rest of the plot, how­ev­er, is com­plete­ly far-fetched. Despite already serv­ing fif­teen years as a polit­i­cal pris­on­er, Zayn gets exiled by Israel and over the next sev­er­al years, the cou­ple move between Egypt, Lebanon, Libya and Syr­ia try­ing to find a safe and secure place to raise their daugh­ter. On the way, Rebec­ca sees the inner work­ings of Pales­tin­ian fam­i­lies, refugee camps, the life of exiles, polit­i­cal strate­giz­ing, and so much more. The pro­tag­o­nist, Rebec­ca, takes the read­er deep into places and sit­u­a­tions that no non-Pales­tin­ian could ever see.

Except for one thing: The Oth­er End of the Sea is a fic­tion­al­ized mem­oir, based close­ly on the life of the author, Ali­son Glick. Those “far-fetched” events and for­ays into the depths of Pales­tin­ian expe­ri­ence real­ly hap­pened. It is a sto­ry that no one else could have told.

Glick takes read­ers through a very unique and impor­tant expe­ri­ence — that of Pales­tin­ian exiles. Her mas­ter­ful sto­ry­telling is grip­ping, pulling us ful­ly into every scene. Over the course of the 30-year-long sto­ry, each his­tor­i­cal event, place, sit­u­a­tion and per­son erupts into Tech­ni­col­or. Some­thing as mun­dane as watch­ing her hus­band eat mel­ons is told in a way that makes the read­er salivate:

“In the late morn­ing light, juice the col­or of a har­vest moon ran in rivulets down his smooth arms as, one after the oth­er, he sliced through the fruit’s flesh, scooped out the seeds, and quar­tered them, method­i­cal­ly eat­ing each one down to the rind. The wait­ing garbage can reg­is­tered each fruit with a clunk.”

Ali­son Glick jour­neyed in the ear­ly 1980s to Israel, where she lived in a kib­butz and in a town near Haifa. After study­ing Mid­dle East his­to­ry at Tem­ple Uni­ver­si­ty, she returned and lived in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Syr­ia for six years, work­ing as a teacher, human rights researcher, and free­lance writer. Alison’s writ­ing has appeared in the Wash­ing­ton Report on Mid­dle East Affairs, Arab Stud­ies Quar­ter­ly, and Mon­doweiss. The Oth­er End of the Sea is her first novel.

I relat­ed deeply to the charged moments at which Rebec­ca and Zayn just couldn’t under­stand one anoth­er. In one sit­u­a­tion, Rebec­ca express­es her lib­er­al val­ues around gen­der rela­tions, val­ues that Zayn had always shared. But in a for­eign coun­try, and beat­en down by his exile, Zayn is over­whelmed. He throws up his hands and says, “You just don’t get it, do you?” Nei­ther is able to explain them­selves across the cul­tur­al divide, widened by trau­ma and despair.

Like all good fic­tion — and effec­tive mem­oir writ­ing — Glick tells a sto­ry that is not only enter­tain­ing, but one that mat­ters. Even though pol­i­tics and cul­ture per­vade every aspect of the sto­ry, the book cen­ters on one thing: The impact of Israel’s frag­men­ta­tion of Pales­tine on a family.

Of course, the sto­ry of Pales­tin­ian frag­men­ta­tion can­not be ful­ly cap­tured in a sin­gle nov­el, and it did not end on the last page of Glick’s book. With a pop­u­la­tion of around 13 mil­lion today, there are over 2 mil­lion Pales­tini­ans liv­ing as sec­ond-class cit­i­zens in Israel, 2.5 mil­lion under Israeli occu­pa­tion in the West Bank, and 2 mil­lion liv­ing under Israeli siege in the Gaza Strip. Anoth­er 3 mil­lion Pales­tini­ans live in Jor­dan, with the rest scat­tered across the Arab world, Europe, Latin Amer­i­ca and North Amer­i­ca, each group with a dif­fer­ent, often pre­car­i­ous, legal sta­tus. Near­ly every Pales­tin­ian is touched by this frag­men­ta­tion: grand­par­ents are strangers to their grand­chil­dren, aunts miss their nieces’ wed­dings, and broth­ers are absent from their broth­ers’ death beds.

It’s not sur­pris­ing, then, that love, no mat­ter how strong, can choke from the tox­i­c­i­ty of this frag­men­ta­tion. This shows up poignant­ly, and trag­i­cal­ly, in Glick’s life and her bril­liant nov­el. At one point in the sto­ry, Rebec­ca returns to the house in Gaza she shared with Zayn, a house to which Zayn can no longer go. She says:

“Stand­ing in that hushed house, I under­stood that it wasn’t the Pales­tine Street chick­ens or left­overs that shift­ed the course of our rela­tion­ship. It was the real­iza­tion that despite all we had lost — friends, fam­i­ly, our home, our work — there was still more left to lose.”

 

EgyptexileGazaJewsLebanonLibyaPalestiniansSyria

Nora Lester Murad is a writer, educator, and activist. She co-authored Rest in My Shade: A Poem About Roots, and edited I Found Myself in Palestine: Stories of Love and Renewal From Around the Globe (both from Interlink Books). Her young adult novel, Ida in the Middle, is about a Palestinian American girl’s journey to belonging. It is forthcoming from Crocodile Books in November 2022. She lives in Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem.

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