Mother of Strangers
A conversation with Suad Amiry and Rashid Khalidi in celebration of Amiry’s new novel Mother of Strangers, presented by the Center for Palestine Studies, Columbia University and co-sponsored by BCRW.
ABOUT Mother of Strangers
Based on the true story of two Jaffa teenagers, Mother of Strangers follows the daily lives of Subhi, a fifteen-year-old mechanic, and Shams, the thirteen-year-old student he hopes to marry one day. In this prosperous and cosmopolitan port city, with its bustling markets, cinemas, and cafés on the hills overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, we meet many other unforgettable characters as well, including Khawaja Michael, the elegant and successful owner of orange groves above the harbor; Mr. Hassan, the tailor who makes Subhi’s treasured English suit, which he hopes will change his life; and the very mischievous and outrageous Uncle Habeeb, who insists on introducing Subhi to the local bordello.
With a thriving orange export business, Jaffa had always been a city welcoming to outsiders—the “Mother of Strangers”—where Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived peacefully together. Once the bombardment of the city begins in April 1948, Suad Amiry gives us the grim but fascinating details of the shock, panic, and destruction that ensues. Jaffa becomes unrecognizable, with neighborhoods flattened, families removed from their homes and separated, and those who remain in constant danger of arrest and incarceration. Most of the population flees eastward to Jordan or by sea to Lebanon in the north or to Egypt and Gaza in the south. Subhi and Shams will never see each other again.
Suad Amiry has written a vivid and devastating account of a seminal moment in the history of the Middle East — the beginning of the end for Palestine and a portrait of a city irrevocably changed.
About the Speakers
Suad Amiry is a writer and an architect. She is the author of six works of nonfiction, including Sharon and My Mother-in-Law, which was awarded the Viareggio-Versilia International Prize in 2004, and Golda Slept Here, which was awarded the Nonino Risit d’Aur Prize in 2014. Amiry received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture and is the founder of the RIWAQ Centre for Architectural Conservation in Ramallah, where she lives.
Rashid Khalidi is Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University.
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