Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982 – by Mahmoud Darwish

“The obscure heaps on the obscure, rubs against itself, and ignites into clarity.”

This quote epitomizes my experience of this book. Although technically written in prose, this book is a poetic journey through Mahmoud Darwish’s experience as a displaced Palestinian of the 1982 bombardment of Beirut. Darwish is one of the most renowned poets in the Arabic speaking world, and even in prose (and even in English translation) his words and metaphors strike deep.

Memory for forgetfulness
The episodes in this book range from highly personal experiences of trauma to passionate political tirades – into the dream world and back to a reality that feels like a nightmare. It is a stunning look at the range of emotions of wartime trauma, from the sudden importance of simple acts like making coffee to the feeling of walking down the middle of an empty street hoping for the quick death of being caught by a shell rather than the slow death of being crushed under a building turned to rubble. The author’s Palestinian identity adds the tension of being caught in the midst of a war, but with no true nationality or homeland.

As the book progresses, the language and metaphors become increasingly edgy and jumbled, leading to a sense of increased confusion and inability to cope with the violence of circumstances. This book is not for the faint of heart (nor for readers who find symbolist poetry especially frustrating). But it is a stunning window into the Palestinian identity and the trauma of war – and even the passages that seem dense with obscurity eventually ignite into an overall sense of clarity.

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