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Three Mothers, Three Daughters: Palestinian Women’s Stories

Three Mothers, Three Daughters: Palestinian Women’s Stories
Michael Gorkin and Rafiqa Othman University of California Press, $25

Michael Gorkin (a Jewish anthropologist) met Rafiqa Othman (an unmanied Palestinian woman) while looking for Arabic classes in Jerusalem. From the unlikely friendship that arose came the idea for this book: an attempt to illuminate the lived experience of individual Palestinian women through oral history. Focusing on three sets of mothers and daughters from families within a 20- mile radius, Gorkin and Othman use the telling of personal history as a vehicle for conveying the larger story of Palestinian womanhood.

Gorkin and Othman posit that while Palestinian women have made tremendous advances in education, in gaining choice of marriage partners, and in other personal ways, the general conservatism of Palestinian culture combined with Muslim fundamentalism by Western standards continue to place these women in fetters. Even their names reflect this tension: each mother is named for her first born son—umm is the Arabic word for mother of—and to that prefix is added the first born son’s name (While Palestinian fathers are also renamed upon the birth of a son, their given names are not erased from public use.)

Outside of a preface, epilogue, and introductory notes to each section, the voice of the anthropologist is almost entirely removed from the recounting of these women’s stories. This format creates an immensely readable and intimate book. Through personal history, set against the backdrop of the Arab- Israeli conflict, we are given a window into a world that is normally shuttered to Western eyes.