Noah’s Law, by Randa Abdel-Fattah

PAGE TURNER ALERT!!!

This book has been a “breath of fresh air” on my recent reading list.

I needed something like this – the kind of book I was very reluctant to put down, and could have read in one sitting had real life not interrupted from time to time, but as a compromise, I had to spread the reading over two days.

Sixteen year old Noah is an imaginative prankster whose originality is matched by the punishments his Lawyer dad devises.

After being caught altering the grades of classmates’ assignments when left alone in a teacher’s office, a dining room court hearing is convened and Noah’s dad sentences Noah to spend the six week  summer holidays working at his Aunt’s law firm.

The tedium of days spent copying legal documents change when Noah starts to suspect something fishy about a client’s pursuit of financial compensation from storage good franchise.

Noah’s talent for mischief turns out to be a helpful attribute, as he gains his first real-life experience of the legal system and finds how difficult it can be for justice to prevail.

I’ve just realised this is now the third Randa Abdel-Fattah book I’ve read. Only a week or two ago I finished Where The Streets Had a Name, and it was only a few minutes ago as I was typing up this “review” that I realised she is also the author of When Michael Met Mina, a book that I enjoyed last year. ( When Michael Met Mina. At the end of that post I included a link to the author’s personal website, but when I tried to access it a few minutes ago, the site didn’t seem to have any content, apart from the page title.)

 

Publisher’s page for the author.

https://www.panmacmillan.com.au/author/randa-abdel-fattah/

 

 

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Where the Streets Had a Name, Randa Abdel-Fattah

Every political situation has human face: often unseen or unnoticed, expediently pushed aside and ignored. Decisions made by rulers affect voiceless, everyday people who are prevented from determining their own path in life.

In Where the Streets Had a Name,  an elderly character describes this to her granddaughter.

 

“My life has been all politics,” she whispers as she touches the pile of photographs of my aunts and uncles on her bedside table. “I do not watch the television for politics because it is in every breath I take. It is here in this apartment, in the empty chairs that should hold my children who were forced to scatter around the world. It is here in the mint leaves floating in this cup of tea beside my bed. Mint leaves that should have been picked from the garden bed in my home, not bought from Abo Yusuf’s store. It is in the olives I eat from someone else’s tree and the patch of sky I am told I must not live under”.

This grandmother was made a victim of circumstances beyond her control, when national borders shifted, separating her and her family from their home and land, being moved from refugee camp to small apartments, prevented from returning to her former home by both political and physical barriers.

When a health scare sends her to hospital, her granddaughter, 13 year old Hayaat decides to aid her recovery by collecting a jar full of soil from her home village (now a part of Jerusalem). The seven kilometre journey between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is made into a major expedition, taking several hours in a variety of vehicles, held up by multiple check points, with seemingly pointless delays, dependant on the whim of checkpoint guards. On arrival in Jerusalem before she reaches her intended destination, Hayaat gets inadvertently caught up in a demonstration, bringing her face to face with tragedy from her past.

As a supporter of Israel I tentatively moved through the first few chapters wondering how biased the story would seem – but I started to realise that the fear came out of MY biased expectations and not the story.

I said I’m a supporter of Israel, and I could have qualified that statement by saying I’m not a supporter of everything that Israel does. I think reading this book has shown me the extent that my qualification was probably more of a self-justifying platitude than a reflection of a well-considered stance, because I’d never given much thought to the day to day experience of those affected adversely by unjust Israeli government policy.

 

I am thirteen years old and I know what blood is. I know what loss is. I know the smell of a corpse. I know the sound of people screaming in terror as they run from a tank. I know the dusty clouds left behind a frenzied bulldozer. The wall will soon be finished. Parts of Bethlehem will be fully deserted. Businesses closed, houses abandoned, streets emptied, schools sliced in half. I’m living in an open-air prison.

 

Reading this book hasn’t changed my support of Israel.

That support is based on my faith as a Christian and informed by my understanding of land ownership promises made by God to the people of Israel (as recorded in the Bible).

However, the benefits of those promises come with responsibilities of justice that aren’t always upheld by the current nation of Israel. But that ongoing story has some way to go…

 

 

 

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the Lord’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And peoples shall flow to it.

Many nations shall come and say,
“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.”
For out of Zion the law shall go forth,
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between many peoples,
And rebuke strong nations afar off;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore.

But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree,
And no one shall make them afraid;
For the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

Micah 4:1-4

But in the meantime, support for Israel should not mean support of oppressive policies and actions directed towards any people living within borders under Israel’s control.

And neither should support of those experiencing injustice under Israel’s government mean holding a hostile attitude towards Israel as a nation and as a people.

When Michael Met Mina, by Randa Abdel-Fattah

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Humour, poignancy, foreboding, joy.

Just a few relevant words that come to mind to describe this book.

I could also add complex, but I wouldn’t want to give the wrong impression that its a difficult, confusing reading experience. The complexity relates to the issues explored, where face-value judgements are never helpful and people don’t always live up to stereotypes.

It is highly entertaining but is much more than mere entertainment; hopefully testing the reader’s preconceptions and biases.

There is a tiny hint of Romeo and Juliet in the story of Michael and Mina. They come from opposite sides of a political/racial divide. One is an Afghan refugee, a “boat person”; the other is the son of politically active parents who established the Aussie Values party devoted to “stopping the boats” and keeping Australia free of the taint of multiculturalism.

Michael first sees Mina on the opposing side during a confrontation between “Aussie Values” and an anti-racist group at a protest gathering. The kind of protest that is becoming increasingly familiar on Australian news programs. There’s no way he can realise how that brief glimpse of a Muslim girl will change his life.

Chapters alternate between the viewpoints of the title characters, starting with Michael, then moving on to Mina. Each chapter helps build up their stories to show us what has shaped their lives and current situations, and also how their developing relationship brings change.

I found the book very relevant in an Australia obsessed with “border control” where election results can be turned upon glib, three word slogans of exclusion. It has relevance when fear and racism can win votes.

It was one of those un-put-downable novels that  was a pleasure to read.

 

Author’s website: http://www.randaabdelfattah.com/

Publisher’s website: http://www.panmacmillan.com.au/9781743534977