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Fiction Review Life in the world's largest prison

GORDON PARSONS recommends a collection of short stories on the grim realities of existence in Gaza

The Sea Cloak
by Nayrouz Qarmout
(Comma Press, £9.99)

WHAT is daily life really like in Gaza? Most of us see on our screens the chaos, fear and destruction at fairly frequent intervals when the Israeli government releases the full power of the IDF on its prisoners but few can imagine the reality of living in that prison.

This first collection of short stories by journalist, women’s rights campaigner and Gaza resident Nayrouz Qarmout achieves what televised images and impartial newspaper reports cannot reach.

There is no polemic in these sharply etched moments in the lives of children and young women surviving as normally as possible in a world where the surreal has become the reality.

The author moves from elegiac reveries in opening story The Sea Cloak, where an unnamed girl longs for the freedoms of her childhood and an escape from the scolding severity of her family, suddenly afraid of their neighbourhoods scorn, to Pen and Notebook, which captures the vibrant resilience of three young brothers daily journeying with their donkey cart to sort and collect the  stones from bombed buildings essential for their family’s survival.

There is surely a biographical element in The Long Braid, where a young activist has to face her teacher who tells her: “You’re wasting your time with this nonsense! You’re better than this. There’s no such thing as a patriotic song, you know! All songs are degenerate; your only loyalty is to God, to your religion.”

Qarmout conveys both the underlying tensions that society faces when Israeli drones can bring instant death from the skies and those of young women who look out at a modern world which conflicts with familial social and religious conventions.

It is no surprise that the Israeli authorities did their utmost to prevent Qarmout from introducing her book at this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival.

Their fear was not simply that audiences might learn more of their repression but that here is evidence that however hard they may make life for Gazans, they will never drive them from their home.

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