REVIEW: Palestine+100, edited by Basma Ghalayini

Review of Basma Ghalayini, ed., Palestine+100, (Comma Press, 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This collection, similar to another of Comma Press’s anthologies that we reviewed back when this site was brand-new, is predicated on answering a single question, asked of twelve Palestinian authors: “What might your country look like in the year 2048 — a century after the tragedies and trauma of what has come to be called the Nakba?”

Science fiction is not a popular Palestinian genre (“The cruel present (and the traumatic past) have too firm a grip on Palestinian writers’ imaginations for fanciful ventures into possible futures”, p. x), which makes this collection of specially-commissioned stories all the more intriguing and important. Basma Ghalayini’s editorial introduction traces the bare bones of the history of Palestine after the introduction of the Israeli state in 1948, in a calm, factual, and deeply uncomfortable way. Given the way that Jews across Europe were treated by the Nazis, it is hard to stomach reading how Israelis have treated Palestinians over the last 70 years. “Palestinian refugees,” Ghalayini tells us, are “nomads travelling across a landscape of memory” (p. viii). This collection is woven together by the thread of memory, but it is also future facing: What are the memories that may possibly be to come?

Why does exploring the future through science fiction matter? Because, as Isaam tells Rahel in Abu Shawish’s story “Final Warning”, “The history of science fiction tells us: Nobody comes this far without either a fight that they never win or to teach us something about ourselves that we desperately need to learn” (p. 166). At the end of her introduction, Ghalayini expresses a desire that readers in the West never experience the kind of oppression and occupation that Palestine has seen over the last seventy years. On the other hand, such readers cannot isolate themselves from these experiences if there is to be any hope of stopping or preventing these events in the future. Reading gives us a way of doing this: To experience without really experiencing, to learn, to empathise, to feel.

As is usual, we will review each story individually, and link the reviews back here when they are available. As disparate as the stories are, there are also many similarities — the idea of virtual reality as a means of escaping actual reality shows up in more than one story. As a whole, the stories in this volume are rich with pain, memory, hope, and uncertainty. They are, for the most part, dark, not hopeful.