Friday, February 24, 2023

Review: Muneera and the Moon, Stories Inspired by Palestinian Folklore

A collection of Sonia Sulaiman's previously published short stories and several new ones

Over the years, author Sonia Sulaiman has built a noteworthy career as one of the prominent representatives of the Palestinian literary tradition in the Western world. Her recent collection Muneera and the Moon showcases a great selection of her literary output and serves as an altogether enjoyable introduction to Palestinian storytelling for English-speaking readers.

In the title story, Muneera and the Moon, delicately painted with the erotic imagery of pomegranates (originally published in FIYAH), two outcast spirits meet in a placid afterlife that provides the bliss they couldn't find on Earth.

Sweet heat infused her body. She was wanted, all of her
accepted and treasured for the first time in her life.

In Tatreez, a sensory trip across an embroidered dreamscape (originally published in Lackington's Magazine), a college student disappointed by the paucity of Palestinian content in her university library takes comfort in the cultural memory encoded in her family heirlooms.

Has she been to the realm of the dead? But she
will bring back what she can preserve. She will
gather up the emptied, the fragmented, and the lost.

In The Mandrake Loves the Olive, a brief, passionate monologue of interspecies devotion (originally published in the Xenocultivars anthology), the trauma of the Nakba is transposed onto the metaphor of a wounded earth crying out for peace.

The story is in my root's skin. Above the soil, you can see
the scars of these many trespasses, where blades and
rough hands in violence touched my sanctified being.

In From Whole Cloth, a worthy entry in literature's long tradition of stories about stories (originally published in ArabLit Quarterly), an asexual prince pressured into marriage finds the perfect soulmate.

There are no stories about what I do mean, so we must make our own.

In Handala. The Olive, the Storm, and the Sea, a mythologized ekphrasis of a national symbol, the titular child displays the serene dignity of Palestinian resistance in an allegorical encounter with a trio of self-satisfied benefactors.

It wasn't that he was proud, that he thought himself special
from the rest of humanity. He defied because he had to survive.

In Autumn Child it seems that the author reworks the same motifs of Muneera and the Moon: the loneliness of immortals, the serendipitous discovery of happiness, and the creation of a private refuge for lovers. But the exquisiteness of the prose makes the retread no less delightful.

He could never quite believe that he was allowed
this. It never became routine, never taken for
granted. How could he be this good, that he
would merit being allowed to love him?

In The Zaffah, a prequel to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, a prophetic message is only completed by the recipient's reaction to it.

Song and steps stopped and there was silence.
She looked up, was about to inquire about
the delay, when her eyes fixed on a vision.

In What the Ghouleh Said on Thursday of the Dead, a monologue in the voice of an undead flesh-eater (originally published in Seize the Press), the Holy Land is resignified as a profane abode of horrors, defiled by the unceasing hunger of colonizers.

I beckon, and entice the unwary, the foolish, the curious.

In Rumanye, a fresh twist on a fairy tale complete with portal travel, the reader is reminded that many classical narrations often believed to be typically Western actually have deeper roots in other traditions.

So, this is the story of how a medieval
torture robot thing captured me.

In Megiddo, a time travel adventure set during the first battle ever recorded, the notion of historical accuracy is pointedly satirized.

Things were going as expected up until the robots showed up.

In The Nettle Branch, a simple yet touching coming-of-age allegory, the salvation of a village comes from the spiritual traditions maintained by women.

Aziza would dream of djinn. Now, before
her tenth year, she would get to see one.

In The Birds Who Turned to Stone, another ekphrastic piece, this time about the Mosque of Omar in Jerusalem, the many facets of artistic creation are celebrated as the true miracle they are.

It is the story of the Spirit churning
minerals, blending impurities, sculpting
that which it desired unseen for eons of time.

In The Marriage, a post-apocalyptic mystery framed as a tale within a tale, the wounds of history continue to send jabs of pain into the future.

A dark scar on the land revealed itself as the children
drew closer. Their laughter died; the horses stilled.

In The Witches of Ascalon, inspired by a real historical event (originally published by Hagstone Press), the sincere generosity of a hated community is praised even under the certainty of upcoming betrayal.

We could be friends; I could be friends with the people
in Ascalon if they would follow the secret road to
learn and enjoy the delicious shade and the grapes
of my vines without hunger for my blood as well.

Sulaiman explains in the introduction to this collection that her chronic illness led her to choose to write in the short format to take better advantage of her available physical energy. The noticeable result of this choice of format is a very precise, very concrete prose, that condenses layers of symbolic meaning in a single passage without sacrificing elegance of style. Her writing wastes not one sentence in getting to the kernel of her plots, yet somehow finds space to luxuriate in curlicues of description that are always refreshing and never superfluous. This collection is a practical way to get acquainted with Sulaiman's expert writing and with the indestructible heart of the Palestinian people.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10.

POSTED BY: Arturo Serrano, multiclass Trekkie/Whovian/Moonie/Miraculer, accumulating experience points for still more obsessions.

Reference: Sulaiman, Sonia. Muneera and the Moon, Stories Inspired by Palestinian Folklore [self-published, 2023].