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by Rula Jebreal

"At dawn on September 13, 1994, a chill ran through the Arab Quarter of East Jerusalem, as word of Hind Husseini's death spread from house to house even before Radio Jerusalem broadcast the news."

The first paragraph of this novel describes the sadness felt throughout the Old City. So loved and respected was this woman that the souk and the narrow lanes and alleyways, usually so vibrant in the early morning, fell silent, and shopkeepers left their shutters down. As her coffin left Dar El-Tifen orphanage, to which she had devoted her whole life, all haggling and bargaining ceased. Men, women and children stood in the street and wept for the woman who had become a symbol of hope for Palestine.

For many hundreds of children orphaned by war she had brought shelter, safety, a good education and real affection and interest in their lives.

Ever since the day in 1948, when, as violence erupted in Jerusalem, she found fifty-five small children, filthy and deeply traumatised, abandoned by a troop of Israeli soldiers in the Old City, and taken them home with her, she had dedicated her life to saving them and hundreds more like them from destitution.

As the need for a refuge for children increased, the home offered every little Palestinian girl who had survived a massacre or been abandoned on the steps of a mosque safety and a good home. Many of these children were to go on to university and many were to lead successful professional lives; others married and had families of their own, often abroad. But even if they never returned to Jerusalem they remembered their debt to Hind Husseini: contributions from former students allowed the school to carry out improvements every year. So sound was the education, health and discipline in the school that it attracted fee-paying students as well as orphans, and because this book is presented as a work of fiction, one of them is called Miral, and this book is about her story.

Miral was one of the brightest and most promising children, but, like any other high spirited girl, she had ideas of her own. Only too soon she is climbing over the back wall and running off to join political rallies and meet unsuitable boys. She reminded me so much of my own daughters that I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. But I could not put the book down till the very last page. Thankyou, Rula Jebreal.

Paula McMaster

Published by Serpentís Tail. 320pp.


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