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Mother of Strangers

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Set in Jaffa in 1947-51, this fable-like novel is a heartbreaking tale of young love during the beginning of the destruction of Palestine and displacement of its people. At times darkly humorous and ironic but also profoundly moving, this novel based on a true story, follows the lives of a gifted 15-year-old mechanic, Subhi, and 13-year-old Shams, a peasant girl he hope Set in Jaffa in 1947-51, this fable-like novel is a heartbreaking tale of young love during the beginning of the destruction of Palestine and displacement of its people. At times darkly humorous and ironic but also profoundly moving, this novel based on a true story, follows the lives of a gifted 15-year-old mechanic, Subhi, and 13-year-old Shams, a peasant girl he hopes to marry one day. At first we see the prosperous life of this cosmopolitan city on the Mediterranean--with its old cinemas, lively cafes and brothels, open air markets, a bustling port and Jaffa's world famous orange groves--through the lives of the families of Subhi and Shams, but particularly through Subhi. As the story evolves, the indiscriminate bombing of Jaffa and the displacements of Palestinian families begin, and we get a fascinating though dark close-up of how those who remained survived. This novel is a cinematic, though devastating, account of one of the most dramatic and least known chapters of Palestinian history. It is a portrait of a city and a people irrevocably changed.


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Set in Jaffa in 1947-51, this fable-like novel is a heartbreaking tale of young love during the beginning of the destruction of Palestine and displacement of its people. At times darkly humorous and ironic but also profoundly moving, this novel based on a true story, follows the lives of a gifted 15-year-old mechanic, Subhi, and 13-year-old Shams, a peasant girl he hope Set in Jaffa in 1947-51, this fable-like novel is a heartbreaking tale of young love during the beginning of the destruction of Palestine and displacement of its people. At times darkly humorous and ironic but also profoundly moving, this novel based on a true story, follows the lives of a gifted 15-year-old mechanic, Subhi, and 13-year-old Shams, a peasant girl he hopes to marry one day. At first we see the prosperous life of this cosmopolitan city on the Mediterranean--with its old cinemas, lively cafes and brothels, open air markets, a bustling port and Jaffa's world famous orange groves--through the lives of the families of Subhi and Shams, but particularly through Subhi. As the story evolves, the indiscriminate bombing of Jaffa and the displacements of Palestinian families begin, and we get a fascinating though dark close-up of how those who remained survived. This novel is a cinematic, though devastating, account of one of the most dramatic and least known chapters of Palestinian history. It is a portrait of a city and a people irrevocably changed.

30 review for Mother of Strangers

  1. 4 out of 5

    Totahly

    Happy Pub Day to this beauty! I posted this last week w/ a short review & wanted to dive a little deeper. Mother of Strangers by Pale$tinIan author @suad.amiry was a deeply touching story about a young boy, blissful, hopeful & in love, planning his future until occupation takes over. While there were some shortcomings, I savored every single page. There are so many moments of laughter & happiness, moments of accomplishments & failures, moments of naivety & credulousness, moments of hope & hopele Happy Pub Day to this beauty! I posted this last week w/ a short review & wanted to dive a little deeper. Mother of Strangers by Pale$tinIan author @suad.amiry was a deeply touching story about a young boy, blissful, hopeful & in love, planning his future until occupation takes over. While there were some shortcomings, I savored every single page. There are so many moments of laughter & happiness, moments of accomplishments & failures, moments of naivety & credulousness, moments of hope & hopelessness, but through it all, knowing the end, I couldn’t help but be optimistic for Subhi. I couldn’t help but be optimistic for not just the characters in Amirys’ story, bc I saw reflections of my own family through them, but I dream of a world where suffering of my people in real life ends. Where our voices weren’t & aren’t silenced; where we are free. A world where we are free. The glimpses of fulfillment, joy & happiness evaporate immediately when “a new nation” is being born & another “annihilated.” In these very passages, it was hard for me to grasp. It was hard to accept. Knowing the reality, I found it so hard to be happy for these very characters, bc they aren’t just characters. They are real people, every day & for the last 73 years who have slowly been erased at the hands of colonizers. The hatred driving this new state & now country is often ignored w/ a facade that peace is what they want-when reality & history proves otherwise. Hatred is what made that state, now a country. & love is what keeps us going, country or not. I appreciate this book so much bc there isn’t much literature be it fiction or not that truly depicts the diaspora of a once prosperous nation. Amiry sets the landscape for what Pale$tine once was: beautiful, vivacious, lively, aromatic from street cafes, orange & olive orchards & restaurants, but more, a people with dreams, hopes, aspirations & family bonds. There is so much more I want to say, but truly, my words escape me bc I could never have enough words to express how deeply connected I am to this book, to Subhis’ story, to the lives of many, many Pale$tinian$, to the loss & trauma I felt reading it & to the utter loss & emptiness I feel writing my review about it. With that, it’s important to be open & to seek understanding even when you truly can’t understand or don’t care to. Because as a Pale$tinian, all I have is my voice & all I want is to be heard. 🧿To my brothers & sisters, we will get through this.✊🏽 📖#SADGIRLREADERS category, so dont forget to use my hashtag when you read sadly powerful books and tag me so I can see it! 🎁 Thank you so much @pantheonbooks my gifted copy! Ya’ll are amazing!😘 🗣Always and forever—FREE MY PEOPLE! 🇵🇸 HEAD OVER TO MY INSTAGRAM PAGE @TOTAHLYBOOKED FOR THIS REVIEW & MORE.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Susan Wright

    This is a moving story about the displacement of Palestinian families during the partition & civil war of 1947-49. But first the story brings to light the city of Jaffa (a seaside port town) before then - what it was like with its enticing cafes, cinemas, shops, and orange groves - and tells the story of Subhi, a young mechanic (age 15) who hopes to gain the heart of a young peasant girl (Shams, age 13) he meets at the annual summer festival. He buys a suit to impress her --and hopes to one day This is a moving story about the displacement of Palestinian families during the partition & civil war of 1947-49. But first the story brings to light the city of Jaffa (a seaside port town) before then - what it was like with its enticing cafes, cinemas, shops, and orange groves - and tells the story of Subhi, a young mechanic (age 15) who hopes to gain the heart of a young peasant girl (Shams, age 13) he meets at the annual summer festival. He buys a suit to impress her --and hopes to one day wear it for their wedding day ... but due to events of the day ... they are pulled apart & their families are displaced, their homes are taken, and they become refugees. You wonder if Subhi & Shams and their families will survive and if they will find one another again. The story weaves through tumultuous scary times - a great upheaval & refugee crisis. I didn't know too much about the history but this novel brings it vividly to life and the travails of those who were displaced. I was taken especially by the character of Subhi, the young mechanic and I rooted for him to succeed. You'll have to check out the story to find out what happens. Apparently it is based on a true story - which the Author talks about in a Note at the book's end.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Leighellen Landskov

    This is a unique book and worth a read, if for nothing else than to learn more about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which I think is something that many Americans can't quite comprehend. The story is based off an encounter that the author had with her taxi driver, and learned of this true story of the "romance" between Subhi and Shams. Now given that I am an American it is a little icky to read about a 13 year old girl being pursued for marriage by a 15 year old. But this is historically and c This is a unique book and worth a read, if for nothing else than to learn more about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which I think is something that many Americans can't quite comprehend. The story is based off an encounter that the author had with her taxi driver, and learned of this true story of the "romance" between Subhi and Shams. Now given that I am an American it is a little icky to read about a 13 year old girl being pursued for marriage by a 15 year old. But this is historically and culturally accurate, so keep that in mind. For me, the strength of this story was less about the romance and more about what it was like to live through an occupation. It's a book that highlights the human condition and all our flaws and beauty. It is a heartbreaking lesson in the displacement of peoples and what "home" means. TO ORDER: Bookshop If you want to see more of what I'm reading each day, follow me on my Bookstagram To watch my monthly updates and author chats, check out my Book Tube channel To read my in depth reviews and see author Q&A's, head to my blogAll audio books are from Libro FM to support my local bookstore, The Book Bar in Denver.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    At first, I let certain technical writing flaws distract me in Mother of Strangers. (If you’re interested: telling rather than showing, disjointed historical points which disrupt the narrative, clunky and unrealistic dialogue, underdevelopment of the main character, confused narrative voice with unclear concept of audience.) Six or seven chapters in, I resolved to forgive the shortcomings of Amiry’s writing to focus on the narrative. The “love story” of fifteen-year-old Subhi and thirteen-year-ol At first, I let certain technical writing flaws distract me in Mother of Strangers. (If you’re interested: telling rather than showing, disjointed historical points which disrupt the narrative, clunky and unrealistic dialogue, underdevelopment of the main character, confused narrative voice with unclear concept of audience.) Six or seven chapters in, I resolved to forgive the shortcomings of Amiry’s writing to focus on the narrative. The “love story” of fifteen-year-old Subhi and thirteen-year-old Shams, from a 2022 perspective, feels statutory, stalkerish, and kinda creepy. After a couple mentions of the minors’ “private parts,” I decided to check-out from the narrative and now shift my attention to the historical elements. The historical backdrop of Amiry’s story is what interested me most as a reader, and sharing her lived experience is where she shines as a writer. With this, Amiry does for me what fiction is meant to do for readers—Mother of Strangers taught me something new about the human condition: I learned more, through Amiry’s depiction of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, what it means to be displaced by war. Amiry’s expert selection of historical context has enlightened me to the struggles countless families face when their country is under attack. This story has given me more compassion for the refugee experience. *I will say the bias is overtly Pro-Palestine, so that fact may alienate some readers. Overall, Amiry’s Mother of Strangers sits in the middle for me. Check out my bookstagram @marizzlereadsbooks for more reviews & chaotic “content.”

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Mother of Strangers focused on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict as well as what it was like before civil war struck the seaside city of Jaffa. Once filled with orange groves and cinemas, the city was home to fifteen-year-old mechanic Subhi who pines for Shams, a thirteen-year-old peasant girl he hopes to marry. The book follows their lives when circumstances turn them into refugees. I don't know nearly as much as I should about this moment in history, and I enjoyed getting this "personalized" loo Mother of Strangers focused on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict as well as what it was like before civil war struck the seaside city of Jaffa. Once filled with orange groves and cinemas, the city was home to fifteen-year-old mechanic Subhi who pines for Shams, a thirteen-year-old peasant girl he hopes to marry. The book follows their lives when circumstances turn them into refugees. I don't know nearly as much as I should about this moment in history, and I enjoyed getting this "personalized" look into the characters. It was both hopeful and devastating in addition to being a reminder of what home really means.

  6. 4 out of 5

    allegedly

    incredible

  7. 5 out of 5

    Hasheemah Afaneh

    These characters, who’s lives are based on a true story, will stay with me for a very, very long time. The vivid descriptions of the characters - from the mechanic to Khawaja Michael - and the description of the settings make the reader feel as if they are in the midst of it all. Beautiful, heartbreaking read, Suad never disappoints.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Shen

    “Set in Jaffa from 1947 to 1951, depicting life just before and at the beginning of the destruction of Palestine and the displacement of its Arab population” 👏👏👏🙌🙌

  9. 4 out of 5

    JoAnn

    Amiry's choice for the title of her novel, Mother of Strangers, is an homage to the city of Jaffa, the city in which most of the story is set. Indeed, while this is a coming-of-age tale revolving around two young muslims, a 13 year old girl named Shams and a 15 year old boy named Subhi, Mother of Strangers is more accurately a memoir of a lost place and people: Jaffa in the 1940s, before the end of the British Mandate and the beginning of the Arab-Israeli war. This novel is a literary memorial t Amiry's choice for the title of her novel, Mother of Strangers, is an homage to the city of Jaffa, the city in which most of the story is set. Indeed, while this is a coming-of-age tale revolving around two young muslims, a 13 year old girl named Shams and a 15 year old boy named Subhi, Mother of Strangers is more accurately a memoir of a lost place and people: Jaffa in the 1940s, before the end of the British Mandate and the beginning of the Arab-Israeli war. This novel is a literary memorial to the Palestine and the ethnically-, religiously-mixed community that lived there. (It should be noted that Amiry based the story on real events. There was a real Shams and a real Subhi.) Through Subhi's and Sham's young eyes, the reader is treated to a view of Palestine before it became haunted by politics of religion, zionism, and war, what it it is today. Both of them were on the edge of a modern moment; in some ways eager to tear away from the traditionalism of life as it was lived by their forebears and in other ways, seeking approval and belonging in that world -- only to find themselves wrenched away from it violently by invasion and war. This is a serious, heart breaking novel, not to be undertaken lightly. Grief and loss thread through it from its start, beginning with children wanting to assert to their own identities and desires, the shedding of childhood and ending with the actual, fatal loss of children, mothers, family, belongings, and legacies. This is a serious, important novel because it highlights this often-hidden aspect of Palestinian trauma. This novel humanizes a history and experience that is often sterilized in the news. I couldn't possibly give this novel any more stars. It is well worth the read and the tears.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    Mother of Strangers tells us the story of Subhi and Shams, two young teens living in Jaffa in 1947 as Palestine is partitioned. We hear the heartbreaking tale of these two hopeful children who must cope with the changes, uncertainty and violence that is thrust into their lives. Subhi is this dreamer of a boy who is an absolute wizard at fixing mechanical things. He loves to read and is fascinated with the more affluent world. When he is able to fix an irrigation system for a rich landowner, he i Mother of Strangers tells us the story of Subhi and Shams, two young teens living in Jaffa in 1947 as Palestine is partitioned. We hear the heartbreaking tale of these two hopeful children who must cope with the changes, uncertainty and violence that is thrust into their lives. Subhi is this dreamer of a boy who is an absolute wizard at fixing mechanical things. He loves to read and is fascinated with the more affluent world. When he is able to fix an irrigation system for a rich landowner, he is paid with a gorgeous "English" style suit. He adores this suit and what it represents in his life, a chance for all of his dreams to come true, he hopes one day to marry local girl Shams while wearing that suit. We get several dreamy chapters of the impact of this suit on his life. An impact that is short lived as his town is torn apart by violence. Then no one believes that this peasant boy could possibly own this suit. This is the experience of many Muslim Palestinains who went overnight from having homes and livelihoods to being run out of their lands forced to live as refugees with nothing or worse being killed. This story gives us a clear snapshot of what these two families faced, a story, that we learn in the end is all true, experienced by the family of the author. Very powerful read with what is a not often heard perspective here in the Western world. Thanks to Pantheon Books for the gifted copy. All opinions above are my own.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Benja

    3.5ish.. I liked this book! I enjoyed the story and the perspective. I do think that kid narrators can be difficult though. The tone/voice felt authentic for a 15 year old, Subhi, but also kind of distracted me and took away from the reading experience. had it been a YA book I wouldn't have minded the juvenile style... On the other hand, Edugyan's Washington Black felt way too adult/mature for the age of the narrator. So, like I said, it is tough. Anyway, overall I don't think it ruined the book 3.5ish.. I liked this book! I enjoyed the story and the perspective. I do think that kid narrators can be difficult though. The tone/voice felt authentic for a 15 year old, Subhi, but also kind of distracted me and took away from the reading experience. had it been a YA book I wouldn't have minded the juvenile style... On the other hand, Edugyan's Washington Black felt way too adult/mature for the age of the narrator. So, like I said, it is tough. Anyway, overall I don't think it ruined the book but was something that I kind of had to get past.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sophia Ali

    This was an amazing book and should be read by everyone. Reading about Palestinians getting displaced from their homes in 1948 by zionists brought tears to my eyes. To know that this still goes on today and no one bats an eye, almost 75 years later, is heartbreaking!! Long live Palestine🇵🇸. One day you will be free❤️

  13. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    3 stars. Neither the historical nor the personal storylines held my interest. It just all felt disjointed.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Khader

    عظيمة يا سعاد... عظيمة.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jill Marshall

    Review in the Historical Novel Review! Compelling and singular main character living through the displacement of Palestinians in 1948.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Christina

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lesley

  18. 5 out of 5

    Haneen

  19. 4 out of 5

    catherine

  20. 5 out of 5

    alix

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jody Keith

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sadie Woolstenhulme

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

  24. 5 out of 5

    Shauna

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lira

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

  27. 5 out of 5

    John Dimoia

  28. 5 out of 5

    Catalina Mendez

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anthony

  30. 4 out of 5

    Katie

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