The winners of the Poetry, Non-Fiction and Fiction Categories, and the overall Wales Book of the Year Winner, will be announced in just under a month. Seren have two titles in the running for the awards, and before we find out the results, we thought you might enjoy reading an extract from each of our nominated books. Look below and you’ll find an extract from Losing Israel by Jasmine Donahaye (shortlisted for the Open University in Wales Creative Non-Fiction Award).
1 – Motherland
It is the year of clogs and flared skirts, of shiny striped shirts with big collars, the year the PLO infiltrates by boat on the coast north of Tel Aviv and takes a bus-load of passengers hostage. It is spring, 1978 and I am ten years old. Security at El Al Airlines is high. I know the names Abu Nidal and Abu Jihad and Leila Khaled – Leila Khaled, that woman who is somehow not really a woman, but a terrorist.
Israel is an impression of barbed wire and rusting yellow warning signs on the beaches, the scent of orange blossom and the stink of sewage, hot nights and ruins – and a huge sprawling network of strangers who are relatives. It is my mother’s first return home after fifteen years of self-imposed exile, and it opens in me a wound I can never heal – a longing to come home to a place that can’t be home.
Now whenever I return, it is the long straight road through the valley to the kibbutz that catches at me – after Afula, that dusty way-station; after the last turnings, where it straightens out into the old Roman road that runs through the Jezreel Valley or the Plain of Esdraelon or Marj Ibn Amer, depending on your political orientation, or language, or biblical inclination. ‘The Ruler Road’ my mother called it, that first time we went back in 1978. The mass of Mount Gilboa rises on your right, and far off in the distance there’s a shimmering above the road where the border lies, some twenty kilometres away. Beyond it rise the Jordanian mountains, the mountains of Gilad or Gilead, after which my grand-father Yair named himself and my family – Hagiladi, a man of that place. On either side of the road stretch the fishponds, where you can see white-fronted blue and chestnut Smyrna kingfishers, and pied kingfishers and black-winged stilts; and then, looming up under Gilboa, the complex of the prison moves into sight, watchtowers and barbed wire topping the long external wall, which runs alongside the dusty road. A short distance beyond the prison a trilingual green metal sign points out the left turning to the kibbutz.
Through every return, the kibbutz lies like a magnet at the centre, exerting a force that pulls each journey into a curve inward to its core. Even now, after I have learned its other story, it exerts its pull. This is where my mother is from, and so I have always felt that this is in some way where I am from, too. No matter what I learn about its history, what I feel about its government’s acts, its citizens’ electoral choices, what I think about its political foundations and exclusions, Israel is inextricably caught up with my mother – my inaccessible, elusive mother, who left her community and her country, but inwardly never left, who carried her home all the years of my childhood not in a book, as some anti-Zionists will say the ‘true’ Jew does, but in the locked chamber of her heart.
We hope you enjoyed reading this free extract from Losing Israel by Jasmine Donahaye. Keep an eye on the Seren blog, because next week we will be publishing an extract from Paul Henry’s gorgeous poetry collection, Boy Running, which is shortlisted in the Wales Book of the Year, Roland Mathias Poetry Award category.
About Losing Israel:
In Losing Israel the search for her family’s past and the part her forebears played in the newly created Israel reveals unsettling knowledge about kibbutzim and land clearances in northern Israel. Challenged by this new and unwonted information, Donahaye’s notion of history and her understanding of Israel, of her grandparents and of her identity is completely transformed.
Buy your copy now: £12.99 direct from the Seren website (sign up to be a Seren Book Club Member to claim 20% off)