Salam everyone !
At first, Palestine was not in the list of countries I got online (and for some maybe it should have stayed that way !). I surely don’t want to take part to the controversy over the recognition of a Palestinian state ; simply, after having read a book from Israel, I thought it was quite normal to try and see what was going on in “the other side”’s literature – and mostly I wanted to get a different view of this region of the world. Coincidentally, the book I picked – The First Well, by Jabra Ibrahim Jabra – has a structure that is rather similar to that of My First Sony (well, quite the same as The dispossessed as well, I think I am going to stay away from such boyhoods’ stories for a while now !). And ultimately, I am very glad that I have discovered this one book : it has been an awesome read, and it would have been a pity to miss it !
This book is an autobiographical one : it tells the story of Palestinian author Jabra Ibrahim Jabra’s childhood in 1920s’ Bethlehem within his poor Orthodox Christian family. And I liked this piece since the first lines ! I really enjoyed my reading, always willing to come back to it when I had to pause ; the 300 pages and more went on pretty quickly, mostly because I totally hooked up with the simple and natural writing style. The author merely tells us his boyhood, without embellishing it and with a remarkable precision in the details. The names, the places, the ambiances, and even the thoughts of young Jabra, everything is impressively clearly rendered.
The narrative weave, as wished by the author in his prologue and unlike My First Sony’s for example, is chronological and doesn’t expand to the “global” environment of the narrator. All along, the story is focused on child Jabra, his activities, his feelings and his immediate relatives. If war or geo-political conflicts are sometimes evoked, it stays brief or even anecdotal. On the contrary, religion is central in the characters’ lives – which leads to it being ubiquitous in the book. Family is also one of the pillars of the text : we can thus notice that the parents are very close in spite of money and health issues, that the home’s atmosphere is hearty and welcoming… I especially felt the huge esteem that the narrator holds for his father, presented as a true believer, a kind and protective man which constantly supports his sons in their studies and wishes. The result is that we really feel welcomed in the author’s life, making the reading even more enjoyable.
This story is also one of discovery and learning : the character falls in love with school and reading, is fascinated by study, gets to being taught by fascinating teachers who all seem amazing when described by him… With Jabra, we become children again, going back to this age when everything is new and captivating, and we measure the chance he had to have such a supportive family compared to other pupils. Thanks to this read, I learn a quantity of things : the text is full of poems, of Arab literature classics’ abstracts, of depictions of the Palestinian society at this time – through portraits, traditional tales, scenes of religious ceremonies…
I found this piece both pleasant to read and rich in informations : Jabra Ibrahim Jabra offers here a true trip to another time, in another world. Through this autobiography, he gives us an overview of life in a region that is conflictive without ever lingering on this quite reductive political aspect, already used a lot in literature. Contrariwise, he sublimes those childhood memories that build everyone’s identity, reminding us how important and unique these are. As he says in the prologue, “childhood stays a source of magic, and its mystery lasts and defies any explanation” . A source of magic and of beautiful books, as proven by The First Well. I recommend !
> The next review will be about Daisy Sisters, by Henning Mankell.
> IBRAHIM JABRA, Jabra – Le Premier Puits, Le Serpent à Plumes – translated from Arab by Leïla El-Masri et Jocelyne Laâbi.
> written listening to “Biladi, Biladi” .