The Storyteller of Jerusalem: the Life and Times of Wasif Jawhariyyeh

2014 winner
The Storyteller of Jerusalem: the Life and Times of Wasif Jawhariyyeh
Publisher: Olive Branch Pr
Published Date : 07 October 2013
ISBN-13: 978-1566569255

Book Author(s):

Salim Tamari

Review by:

Jessica Purkiss

The Storyteller of Jerusalem is a remarkable and unique memoir of the life and times of Wasif Jawhariyyeh, a talented composer, oud player, poet and chronicler from the Old City of Jerusalem. The memoir is a collection of observations, notes on his personal life and recordings of historical moments in Jerusalem's history. Spanning over four decades, they cover the city's most turbulent changes.

His account takes us from the Ottoman period into the era of British control, and the lead up to the establishment of Israel, covering the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, known as the Nakba. Through his writings we gain an insight into the changing Jerusalem as it grows outside the confines of the city walls and passes hands. We are offered intimate glimpses into these times and the characters that shape them.

Jawahariyyeh writes in the foreword: "I am no skilled writer, famous historian, or experienced traveller. I am simply a civil servant who was forced out of school by the First Great war. But I feel compelled to document situations, surprises, and incidents which emerged in my life during the Ottoman and the British periods in my country of Palestine, some of which are amusing."

In this admission lies the beauty of the memoir. It is not a memoir of a member of high society; Wasif is immersed in all strata's of Jerusalem life and his heart seems to beat with the city. Born to Jiryus Jawhariyyeh, a mukhtar (communal leader) of the Eastern Orthodox community and a member of Jerusalem's municipal council, and Hilaneh Barakat, the daughter of Andony Barakat, who belonged to one of Jerusalem's Arab Greek Orthodox families, he is not from the wealthiest of families but enjoys the connections of his father when times are hard.

It is during his boyhood that Wasif constructs his first instrument from an empty can of Easter egg dye, inserting a wooden stick into which three nails were hammered and a piece of string tied to them. It begins his love for music, a love which is threaded throughout the book. Wasif gathers the music from the people he meets, from the fields and from the streets. In the process, we learn about the sounds of Palestine's past, their meaning to local people and their shifting roles as the region undergoes huge changes.

Jerusalem now stands carved by the separation wall and expanding settlements, controlled by a policy which allows free access to the city for one people but not for another. Jerusalemites have been fractured and scattered. The beauty of this memoir is that it offers us a glimpse of a time when communitarian values threaded Jerusalem's people together and builds in anyone that reads it a yearning for the Jerusalem of Wasif's boyhood.

Winners of the Palestine Book Awards

  • They Called Me a Lioness: A Palestinian Girl's Fight for Freedom
  • I Sing From the Window of Exile
  • Imagining Palestine: Cultures of Exile and National Identity
  • Transnational Palestine: Migration and the Right of Return before 1948
  • Among the Almond Trees: A Palestinian Memoir
  • Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear: Poems from Gaza
  • Tolerance Is a Wasteland: Palestine and the Culture of Denial
  • Reclaiming Humanity in Palestinian Hunger Strikes : Revolutionary Subjectivity and Decolonizing the Body
  • Psychoanalysis under occupation: practicing resistance in Palestine
  • Power born of dreams: my story is palestine
  • Al-Haq: A Global History of the First Palestinian Human Rights Organization
  • Sambac Beneath Unlikely Skies
  • Places of Mind: A life of Edward Said
  • Except for Palestine: The limits of progressive politics
  • A history of Palestinian Islamic Jihad: Faith, awareness, and revolution in the middle east
  • Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands
  • Against the Loveless World
  • The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017
  • Life in a Country Album
  •  There Where You Are Not