Isabella Hammad's second novel, Enter the Ghost, begins as the title suggests: with an entrance. London-based Palestinian actress Sonia Nasser made it through security at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport with no more problems than she expected, with a quick strip search.
She traveled to Haifa for the first time since childhood, after mourning and a desire to trust her older sister. However, the strained relationship between the siblings soon leaves Sonia stranded in the apartment, unsure of her welcome and contemplating the discovery that her uncle has sold the family home to an Israeli buyer and moved on. When a wonderful friend, Mary, arrives and announces that she needs Queen Gertrude for a West Bank production of "Hamlet," Sonya becomes involved. As he begins to process his complicated feelings of guilt over his politically disrupted life in England, the production of 'Hamlet' turns political tensions in the region, culminating at the Bethlehem Theatre.
Hamlet plays a central role in more than one novel. The title "The Entrance of the Ghost" is taken from a clue in the play by William Shakespeare, when the ghost king Hamlet orders his son to seek justice for his corrupt kingdom. The novel's story is filled with similar conflicts—between lovers, family members, Israel "within" and the West Bank "without"—and suggests a ghostly third way, which Hammad illustrates through the central idea of the intersection of worlds. . . . Sonya brings her temporary role to life with attention to the smallest details, both as the novel's narrator and as a trained performer. Her body is often the subject of detailed writing about intimacy and freedom: her problems with lovers, pregnancy and misogyny are intertwined with the novel's larger conflicts.
Hammad is a serious scholar, and in "Enter Ghost" he gives a very direct account of the contemporary Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In contrast to the tensions that followed the 2017 murders of two real-life Israeli police officers at the compound called Haram al-Sharif by Muslims and the Temple Mount by Jews, the resulting civil unrest over the plot of the novel continues, but they never does not occur. really beat it. When the cast tried to rehearse Shakespeare in classical Arabic on their large outdoor stage near the separation wall in Bethlehem, the Israeli government intimidated them, limited funding and allowed the army to interfere with the project.
"The Parisian" by Isabella Hammad takes us to the Ottoman Empire in full chaos
The novel has an uneasy relationship with politics, and American writing in particular tends to avoid the issue of Palestine, a topic identified in the text as "most instances of sermons to the deaf and choirs". These are the obstacles Hammad overcame in his 2019 debut Al Barisi (on the British Mandate for Palestine), which made him a writer of extraordinary skill. He soon succeeded in traversing wide social and historical terrain without losing his sense of detail, which gave his writing about human characters a surgical finesse. His style is often described as "cool". These abilities placed him in the company of other post-colonial literary novelists such as Ahdaf Soueif and Abraham Verghese. And like "In the Eye of the Sun" and "Cut for Stone," "The Parisian" clocks in at nearly 600 pages. But something different, smoother and more intelligent happened with "Enter Ghost", thanks to the western adaptation of Hammad's work.
The plot structure is formed around the basic procedures of a stage production: acting, reading, rehearsal and acting, together with supporting drama among the cast. From this relatively simple setting, the similarities between "Hamlet" and the novel emerge, through themes such as betrayal, comedy within comedy, family breakdown and turbulent circumstances. However, you don't have to be a Shakespeare lover to appreciate this reimagined classic – Mariam and her team speak candidly about the show's versatility in its West Bank setting. This novel clings to its fourth wall without seeming shy, and the episodic writing is unexpected and engaging. He also succeeds in moving beyond specific ekphrasis to a broader meditation on the balance between the work of art and its context. When tens of thousands of Muslims, including atheist Sonia Ladri, gathered to protest the security measures in Haram al-Sharif by praying in the streets, Sonia quipped: "Our game needs protests, but demonstrations don't need our game."
Basic theatrical concepts of catharsis, audience, comedy and tragedy (manifested as absurdity) boil down to what it means for Sonya to actually be involved in something seemingly bigger than herself. In a brief but very funny scene, the novel also tries to hide what Israel means to its soldiers, when Sonya meets a British-Israeli teenager manning a checkpoint. His English-speaking anger shocked her for his role as an IDF soldier to "defend my people" and for his role as a teenager defending himself against accusations that he was from Manchester. Mixed identities are everywhere, as is everyday viewing, and they exude nuances that defy easy categorization.
Although "Enter Ghost" sometimes appears to be morally important, such as concern for Palestine while other conflicts, such as Yemen, vie for international attention, it succeeds as a rare fantasy project that invites many viewers to pay attention. Or, in the words of Hamlet, "Drama is where I catch the conscience of kings."
Sarah Cypher is a freelance book editor and the author of Skin and Her Girl , which is published this month.
enter the ghost
Written by Isabella Hammad
Jungle Press. 336 pages $28
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