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Not to be Overlooked

By Gurnish Kaur and Elfie Riverdell

'Not To Be Overlooked' introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of A River Dies of Thirst By Mahmoud Darwish and Activist by Louisa Reid.

A River Dies of Thirst By Mahmoud Darwish

'Not To Be Overlooked' is kickstarting 2023 by shining light on Palestinian author Mahmoud Darwish. Darwish has been known to be the voice of many Palestinians through his poetry and prose. From the Lenin Peace Prize to the Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom, Darwish has been awarded numerous prizes to celebrate his literary work.

Many may know Mahmoud Darwish’s literary work but equally as many may not. This article hopes to bring his poetry to a new generation of readers and provide some inspiration as we enter the new year. Darwish has published over thirty poetry collections and eight books of prose. A River Dies of Thirst, published in 2008, was Darwish's last poetry collection to be published. This collection encapsulates Darwish’s thoughts and feelings of love, pain, exile and death while he observed Israel attack Gaza and Lebanon in 2006.

Despite the themes of unrest and pain, Darwish creates an almost lyrical writing style in his poems, which gives some sense of the hope and desire that many would have felt themselves.

This paradox of feelings is beautifully crafted by Darwish’s use of nature imagery to symbolically convey the loss of land and identity for Palestinians. The poem that I felt captures this most in A River Dies of Thirst is “The Forest;” the writer’s inability to hear their own voice seems to ironically echo the silence of the Palestinian nation. The repetition of “I couldn’t hear my voice” at the beginning of each stanza only exemplifies the suffocated voices of Gaza and Lebanon.

Darwish also blurs the line between prose and poetry. While his poems are lyrical, they are also full of nature imagery – a key motif in Arabic poetry. Darwish is also able to maintain the poetic Arabic prosody through repetition and the flow of natural imagery in each poem.

Darwish also unconventionally weaves dialogue throughout his poems, whether this dialogue is in conversation with the self or others. Darwish tends to personify nature, land and sea as symbols of the closeness refugees may have with nature. For instance, in “The Forest” the wind says “This is your voice” yet the poetic voice is still unable to hear it.

A River Dies of Thirst is not only Darwish’s journey but also the journey and story of many others. His use of “I” and “We” are interchangeable throughout the poems. For example, the poem “Beyond Identification” paints a very vivid picture of the poet sitting in front of the television, witnessing war crimes feeling as though the deaths occurring are his own. This poem hit home and made me think of all the times we read or watch the news and a piece of our hearts helplessly breaks.

Darwish’s acclaimed poetry is simply beautiful to read, but the depth of feeling Darwish creates with his lyrical writing is captivating.

Activist by Louisa Reid

TW: sexual assault

A heart-breaking anonymous testimony posted online sparks a series of protests at a prestigious private school. This novel in verse is powerful, emotional and hard-hitting.

When Cassie tries to fight against the injustice and unsafe environment of her prestigious school, she is met with hostility from both the male students and the adults around her. Cassie and her group of friends take matters into their own hands, and fight to make their school – and the world – a safer place to exist.

Cassie ,as the main character, is passionate and determined. She is faced with multiple challenges throughout the novel but refuses to give up. As Cassie and her friends fight back with strikes, presentations and public protests, we see her passion and endurance shine through. The challenges she faces throughout the novel are heart-breaking, but her ability to fight back and put her activism above all else is admirable and inspirational.

This book deals with some very heavy subject matter – please do your research into trigger warnings for this book before picking it up – but it does so in a way that is respectful and raw. Reid refuses to hide any aspect of the terrible things that are happening to the students, and although it is a very difficult topic to read about, it is a topic that needs to be discussed.

Cassie and her friends are not only fighting against the school’s refusal to hold the students accountable for their actions; they are also fighting to protect a local woodland from residential development. Reid does an excellent job of combining these two issues and uniting them with the characters’ protests and activism.

This is a powerful and undeniably important read. Once you have considered the trigger warnings, it is a story that brings an important subject matter into the young adult literature space.



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