Translated 30 years after it was originally published in Arabic as Bab al-Saha, Sahar Khalifeh’s Passage to the Plaza is a fast-paced novel that follows a multi-generational cast through the first Palestinian Intifada. It is written from a predominantly female perspective by three women protagonists, and sheds new light on a gendered experience of the 1987-1993 uprising.
All three women are forced together by a curfew that becomes increasingly claustrophobic as the novel progresses, and struggle with the gendered restrictions created by the patriarchal society in which they live. Sitt Zakia is a devoutly religious, elderly, single midwife, who has been abandoned by both her ex-husband and children. Despite her experiences, however, the quarter’s mother figure struggles with but is unwilling to upset the patriarchal order.
In one agonising scene that typifies both the callousness with which Khalifeh’s characters treat each other as well as Zakia’s unwillingness to challenge the social order, the midwife refuses to shelter her maltreated, neglected sister-in-law. Instead, she tells her to learn to bear being abused by her husband: “My opinion is – and now don’t get upset with me Um Azzam – that you should go back to your house and be a decent wife. Don’t blame me for this, but people like us, women, we only feel at ease in our own homes. Your whole life you’ve been so patient and discreet. And after all this time, after your boys have become men, you leave your home, Um Azzam?”
This book is on the shortlist for the Palestine Book Awards 2020, please click here to read the full review on the Palestine book awards site.