Author Adina Hoffman bridges the gap in Middle East through literature

The Daily Pennsylvanian
April 22nd, 2009

As a Jewish-American Israeli writing about an Israeli-Palestinian, author Adina Hoffman strives to build bridges between all three cultures.

Hoffman visited the Kelly Writers House last night to read from and discuss her recently published book, My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet's Life in the Palestinian Century. This biography of a Palestinian poet, Taha Muhammed Ali, is the first biography of a Palestinian writer written in any language.

The story recounts Taha's past in Saffuriyya, Palestine, and the refugee camp in Lebanon he lived in before dire conditions and the death of his sister from meningitis drove his family to Nazareth, Palestine, where he now resides.

In one of the chapters, Hoffman conveys the details of Taha's childhood. She describes how he was barefoot for the first decade of his life, and how he began to feel like a human being when he started learning in a municipal school.

College senior Jae Bang commented, "I don't know much about Middle Eastern literature, but I found the reading and imagery very engaging and captivating."

During the discussion following the reading, Hoffman described the many challenges she faced while researching and writing the book. The finished product, she said, took five years to complete.

The nature of the town of Ali's birth, Saffuriyya, posed problems during the process, Hoffman said. Now a Jewish National Pine Forest in honor of Guatemala's Independence Day, the city left very few written records.

Max Apple, a Penn faculty member in the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, described Hoffman's book as a biography not only of a Palestinian poet, but of a "vanished village."

Hoffman's other major challenge was taking on a tired subject: the year 1948.

"With so much already written about it, I dreaded dealing with this year," she admitted.

Another obstacle Hoffman encountered was accounting for other points of view, she said. Referring to her mixed heritage, Hoffman pointed out, "I, myself, am another point of view."

Hoffman said she expects both Jewish and Palestinian readers to be upset by the book.

"A writer does not always have permission to narrate," she said, quoting Palestinian scholar Edward Saeed.

However, Hoffman added that she is prepared to suffer the consequences of her controversial work.

When asked if she has made any enemies yet with the book, Hoffman replied jokingly, "Not yet, but I'm working on it."