Ghada Karmi Reading at Fives Leaves Bookshop, Saturday 13th May 2017
Ghada Karmi was forced to leave Jerusalem in 1949 and settled with her family in North London, where she still lives today. She practiced as a medical doctor, has held several research appointments and is the author of academic works as well as literary accounts that deal with the ongoing struggle of Palestinians.
Beginning the reading with an extract from the introduction to her memoir In Search of Fatima (2002), Karmi emphasised that her book came about through a wish to write about the Palestinian situation in human and accessible form, in order to get away from the discourse of political treaties and economic research studies. These, she argued, could have never expressed the world of Palestinian feelings, thoughts and stories in the way that a literary memoir could – she wanted to first and foremost make readers understand Palestinians as humans rather than an indistinguishable collective. Despite the very intimate first person narrative throughout her memoir, it is, according to Karmi, the preface that elicits the most emotional responses to her book: there, in the third person, she depicts the moment when nine-year old Ghada had to leave her home in West Jerusalem, and more traumatically at the time, leave behind the family dog. Afterwards, her family settled in North London and while Karmi’s parents could not bear the thought of their irrevocably changed homeland and never returned, she visited many times but eventually decided that visiting was not enough which lead to a longer visit in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority ministry in 2005 – the foundation for Return: A Palestinian Memoir (2015). This second personal account marks her attempt at reconciling her two identities as both an an exile, largely having profited from a rather privileged life in the UK, and her own labelling as a “full-time Palestinian”, and the ensuing painful realisation that those who she perceives to be her own people, do not immediately reciprocate that sentiment. The two memoirs, documenting departure and return to the same and yet very different region, set out to record a personal history to engage a wider audience and create space for a people’s (hi)story. If the evening with Ghada Karmi has shown one thing, it is that the personal has always been, and will continue to be, highly political.
- Veronika Schuchter