Where the Streets Had a Name - Randa Abdel-Fattah

Where the Streets Had a Name - Randa Abdel-Fattah

    

Where the Streets Had a Name - Randa Abdel-FattahWhere the Streets had a Name is the story of Hayaat, a young Muslim girl,’s journey from her home in Bethlehem to the city of Jerusalem, to collect soil from her grandmother’s village. Sitti Zeynab, the grandmother, was forced out of her village in Jerusalem by the Israeli occupation. When she falls ill, Hayaat resolves to go to her village to collect some soil, believing that this will make her better. She and her friend Samy set out on a dangerous journey, mostly by bus, passing armed checkpoints and eventually sneaking illegally over the Wall which is keeping them from their goal. Their greatest challenge arrives when they finally reach Jerusalem, because they are breaking the law by being there.

This novel provides a deep insight into life in an occupied country, bringing the events we hear about on the news into the lives of ordinary people. But despite the oppressive situation Hayaat and her family live in, they are a vibrant family, full of characters. Her older sister is obsessed with planning her wedding and her mother is an awesome, forceful presence. Sitti Zeynab is always praying and reading from the Koran, her father smokes his argeela (pipe) and longs for their old home back again. Hayaat’s friend, Samy is rebellious and cheeky, always irritating adults and getting into trouble. However, most of the characters have a depth behind their personalities – Hayaat herself has scars on her face from a shooting where her best friend was killed, and the memory still haunts her. There are also lots of minor characters – people the children meet on buses, taxi drivers and David and Molly, the two kind Jews.

The journey to Jerusalem gets a bit repetitive after a while – it basically consists of several long bus journeys, waiting at checkpoints, talking to people on the buses and worrying about whether or not they will be allowed through. This might be a very realistic account, because the book is partly based on the author’s own travels in Palestine, but it doesn’t make for very interesting reading. There are some funny and exciting bits, and times when the reader feels great pity for the characters, but largely the pattern of bus journeys is rather monotonous.

I would say this is definitely a book for younger teens. Hayaat and Samy, despite both having endured hardships in their past, seemed a little childish and naïve to me as an older reader. The end, while happy and quite uplifting, was a bit of a disappointment considering what Hayaat set out to do.

While I found the novel lacked depth and maturity, it is a funny, happy and relevant story, providing a deep insight into life in an occupied land.

 Kitty

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