A Rift in Time: Travels with My Ottoman Uncle, By Raja Shehadeh

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The Independent Culture

Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian lawyer based in Ramallah whose previous book, Palestinian Walks, won the 2008 Orwell prize, has more walking in mind with this latest work – only this time he is following in the footsteps of his great-uncle, Najib Nassar.

He is inspired to do so after waiting one night to be arrested. His grandmother tells him of this relative, another writer, who was also wanted by the authorities. Nassar escaped and went on the run, leaving behind his wife and children and traversing the invisible borders between Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan. (In 1915, when Nassar began his three-year exile, Palestine belonged to the Ottoman Empire.)

As Shehadeh follows his great- uncle's path, his anger at the distorted landscape and the tortuous, roundabout way he must travel just to be allowed access to the same places Nassar reached with comparative ease, bubbles to the surface again and again. As after the Highland Clearances, which left only traces of Scottish villages where sheep now graze, Shehadeh says, Arab towns have been destroyed and ways of life have vanished.

A Rift in Time is a book written by a grieving, angry man, which does not always make for the most subtle of work. However, it is passionate and sincere.

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