The Book of Disappearance: A Novel
Author: Ibtisam Azem
Translator: Sinan Antoon
Publisher: Syracuse University Press (2019)
What if all the Palestinians in Israel simply disappeared one day? What would happen next? How would Israelis react? These unsettling questions are posed in Azem’s powerfully imaginative novel. Set in contemporary Tel Aviv forty eight hours after Israelis discover all their Palestinian neighbors have vanished, the story unfolds through alternating narrators, Alaa, a young Palestinian man who converses with his dead grandmother in the journal he left behind when he disappeared, and his Jewish neighbor, Ariel, a journalist struggling to understand the traumatic event. Through these perspectives, the novel stages a confrontation between two memories. Ariel is a liberal Zionist who is critical of the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, but nevertheless believes in Israel’s project and its national myth. Alaa is haunted by his grandmother’s memories of being displaced from Jaffa and becoming a refugee in her homeland. Ariel’s search for clues to the secret of the collective disappearance and his reaction to it intimately reveal the fissures at the heart of the Palestinian question.
The Book of Disappearance grapples with both the memory of loss and the loss of memory for the Palestinians. Presenting a narrative that is often marginalized, Antoon’s translation of the critically acclaimed Arabic novel invites English readers into the complex lives of Palestinians living in Israel.