Kassem’s perceptive and ground breaking book can be read in
several ways. On one level I want toread it as a triumph of the feminist life story methodology, aiming not to reproduce gendered powerrelations in Palstinian society but rather to dismantle these structures (63), enabling both researcherand researched to embody the tensions between acquiescence and resistance, living as they do ascolonised subjects in a patriarchal society. Although Kassem tells her family story, this is not really anauto-ethnography, but rather a perfect example of what feminist writers call
The end result is also what Foucault calls
of subjugated knowledges’ –
insufficientlyelaborated knowledges: naive knowledges, hierarchically inferior knowledges, knowledges that are
below the required level of erudition or scientificity…’ (Foucault, 2003: 7
-8). As active agents, thequoted narratives of the women Kassem interviewed make a valuable contribution to knowledge,
‘specifically in terms of
the ways in which they remember and seek to commemorate historical
events’, despite their absence from
most Nakba histories (239). But it is not only the women, butalso Kassem herself who makes a crucial contribution to knowledge not only through steeping herown family in Nakba memories, and through straddling between citizenship and outsiderness, butalso through her commitment to what Le
s Back calls ‘sociology as the art of listening’ (2007),
assisting her in
excavating the women’s life stories for a multiplicity of meanings.
Thus on another, perhaps more crucial level, the book must be read for the astute analysis of thenarratives of these elderly women, first generation to the Nakba, living in what Kassem calls the
‘contested’ rather than ‘mixed’ cities of Lyd and Ramleh.
Carefully mining her narrative data,
Kassem excavates the women’s stories around three main themes. The first focu
ses on the use of language, which, in its quotidian use (the women are mostly illiterate or of low levels of education),provides gendered meanings, spanning the private, the political, and the subversive. The secondtheme is the focus on the body. Here women speak of the vulnerable, victimized male body, hanged,expelled, imprisoned, killed, and ultimately signifying failure in the public sphere, not being able toprotect families and gain access to the political arena. The female body, on the other hand, is spokenabout as a site of memory and resistance, a strong body of survival, even though none of the womenspoke explicitly about rapes during the 1948 Nakba, also silenced by the Israeli side, though fordifferent reasons. This is a particularly fascinating chapter
as the women memorise historical
events through ‘body times’ –
maidenhood, pregnancy, childbirth
charting feminine patterns of memory and denoting both suffering and strength. The third theme is home, which the womenspeak of in complex and sophisticated ways, linking home and homeland, loss and at time re-gaining.To me Kassem;s analysis of her data is always compelling, perpetually surprising, evokingmultilayered meanings which illuminate the gendered experiences of the Naka.