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A Palestinian Political Prisoner's Reprise

by Camille Hernandez

Part of LM Voices' Tiny Reviews series

How do we come to terms with solidarity and liberation amidst the mass censorship of history and the erasure of Indigenous ways? We do what our communities of colonial resistance has always done: we tell our stories. Susan Abulhawa’s novel Against the Loveless World is a rich and lyrical epic of Nahr, a Palestinian woman turned freedom fighter who is detained in an Israeli prison. Nahr’s story is told entirely from her perspective, detailing her childhood as a Palestinian refugee in Kuwait and the exploits that brought her back to her homeland in her adulthood. At the center of Nahr is this deep love that keeps her indestructible and vulnerable as she bounces back and forth from her present reality in solitary confinement and her earlier years of traversing through the Middle East during and after the US’s invasion of Iraq to search for a better life for her and her family. When Nahr travels to Palestine she finds a deep sense of identity, a community that offers a love more fulfilling than she can ever dream of, and the thirst to return to her indigenous roots and Palestinian culture. Here we find the many facets of Nahr: the dreamer, the prostitute, the romantic, the revolutionary, and the woman destined to become a great threat to Israeli occupation.

Abulhawa’s words strung together beautifully in this literary offering of historical truth, psychological depth, and revolutionary insight brings us to the brink of this moment in history. We discover the ways pan-Arabism, pan-Africanism, and global solidarity enliven us to speak truth, live free, and end colonial regimes. This is a book about wartorn women demanding the efficacy of humanity. Every truth this book delivers became a light to hold close to the chest.

The structure of Abulhawa’s story rebukes Western literary traditions. She does not write Nahr in a linear way. Instead, Against the Loveless World, is written in a spiral format. With characters leaving and returning and Nahr’s journey spiraling up like a vine towards the sunlight. The supporting characters are not flat, their growth aids in Nahr’s, and together they create this orchestra of resistance. The spiral format of this novel breathes more life into community, solidarity, gender, and sexuality. These themes shift, greet, and collide throughout the narrative.

What is most troubling about the book is that it leads us to confront dominant teachings of history. This book is a direct confrontation to colonial histories and the anti-Arab narratives set by Western media for the last four decades. Nahr’s story as a childhood refugee turned sex worker exists in the center of the conflicts, conquests, and coup d’états that happened from the 1970s to the early 2000s.

In her author’s note, Abulhawa shares that it took her 20 years to write this novel. During that time she interviewed freedom fighters and political prisoners throughout the world in order to bring depth and soul into Nahr’s character. The work she put into the story paid off. What remains is an exquisite narrative of one woman that is the story of the pain, the strength, and the resilience of so many women fighting to live in a world addicted to war.


Camille Hernandez is the Poet Laureate for the City of Anaheim. She authored the bestselling book The Hero and the Whore. Her poems appear in So to Speak, FIYAH, and Anaheim Poetry Review. She is a mentee in AWP's Writer to Writer program and a fellow of The Watering Hole.


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