The Sea Cloak by Nayrouz Qarmout (Translated by Perween Richards) | Book review

The Sea Cloak book cover - a mythical mermaid figure swimming.

The Book: The Sea Cloak & Other Stories
Author: Nayrouz Qarmout
Publisher: Comma Press
Genre & Themes: Gaza & Palestine, Women, war, and family.
Trigger warning: sexual abuse, terrorism, war.
Rating: 4/5 stars

Thanks so much to Comma Press for gifting me a copy of The Sea Cloak to review. This in no way affects my opinion or review.

Lately, I’ve been trying to read more books that aren’t set in the UK or US. (You may already know this if you’ve read my #NOTUKYA blog post). So when I saw The Sea Cloak appear on my Twitter feed, I knew it was something I wanted to read.

The Sea Cloak consists of 11 short stories about the life of women in Palestine today. Each story embodies a different perspective to give “a local perspective on a global story”. From stories about sexual abuse, political unrest and turmoil, and living in a refugee camp, to family dynamics and love, this collection is hard hitting but beautiful.

Each story gave me another piece of a puzzle I didn’t know that I was missing. It slowly allowed me to build a fuller picture of what I think of when I Imagine Palestine and Gaza. I would definitely recommend it if you would like a beautifully written collection of short stories about one of the most talked about but misunderstood places on the planet.

The Sea Cloak Book cover stood between a brick wall.

I try to learn about different cultures and settings where I can, but I can’t sit here and pretend that I fully understand the conflict in Gaza and Palestine. That’s not to say I’m an ignorant white girl, I really do keep my ears open, listen to what people have to say, and try to learn. I’m saying this because I went into this story, with only a small amount of knowledge about the political background of where the stories were set. I therefore don’t feel like I’m in a position to talk about them based on their historical and political context.

However, the whole point of this short story collection is to bring a personal perspective, and to show you what it’s like to live a regular life in Palestine. Of course, the political and historical context of certain events were interwoven into the stories, but the main focus was surrounding the characters and their lives. It was intriguing, captivating, and just beautiful to read.

Saying that – I did appreciate that at the end of some of the stories, there was a Notes section where it would give you some historical context about the story, or a translation of any words used. It allowed the story to not get bogged down in specific information, and therefore came across as a really personal tale about what’s happening. Having the notes section allowed me to understand things deeper, and there were a few times where I read the notes, and then actually went back and re-read the story as it gave me a deeper understanding of the bigger picture.

Hand holding The Sea Cloak over a green and yellow bush.

I also really enjoyed the poetic style to Nayrouz’s writing. I don’t quite know how to describe it but it was beautiful to read. Especially with the descriptions of the cities, families and the sea – I was enchanted by the whole collection.

I particular enjoyed the stories Breastfeeding, The Long Braid, Our Milk, The Mirror, and Pen and Notebook (basically all of them!). The last one in particular, was incredibly heartfelt. I read it a few days ago now and I keep finding myself thinking about it. It details the story of a boy and his brothers who make their way across town on a donkey and a cart. People are honking and yelling at them to move, but they persist. They spend the whole day collecting stones from rubble, and at the end of the day they sell the stones. The oldest brother gives the money to his mum, and the last little bit of money to his brothers so they can buy a pen and a notebook and learn to write.

Every story felt so powerful, and I just couldn’t wait to discover what was next. I would definitely recommend picking up a copy and broadening your horizons.

Have you ever read a book set in Palestine or Gaza? What is your favourite short story collection?

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