REVIEW: The Sea Cloak and Other Stories, Nayrouz Qarmout

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

The Sea Cloak is a collection of 14 stories by the author, journalist, and women's rights campaigner, Nayrouz Qarmout. Drawing from her own experiences growing up in a Syrian refugee camp, as well as her current life in Gaza, these stories stitch together a patchwork of different perspectives into what it means to be a woman in Palestine today. Whether following the daily struggles of orphaned children fighting to survive in the rubble of recent bombardments, or mapping the complex, cultural tensions between different generations of refugees in wider Gazan society, these stories offer rare insights into one of the most talked about, but least understood cities in the Middle East. Taken together, the collection affords us a local perspective on a global story, and it does so thanks to a cast of (predominantly female) characters whose vantage point is rooted, firmly, in that most cherished of things, the home.

My favourite thing about books (and believe me, there are many) is the fact that they open doors to new worlds. And yes, I suppose when it comes to whimsical tales of childhood fantasy, I sometimes mean that literally but, more than often not, it is the opening of my eyes to different conceptions of my own world that offer me the most wonder. I have one view, one limited perspective that is made even more so with the tendency of this country to centre itself in all of its news stories, and the idea of seeking out the views of others through the words they write, is one that makes me thankful everyday for the power of literature.
I have never been to Palestine, I probably never will. The details of often-shoddily carried out news reports, often leave me more confused about its current climate than I was before; my thoughts filled with images of bombed-out buildings and no more insight apart from shock and outrage. But, diving into Nayrouz Qarmout’s mind, if only for a few hours, allowed my own thoughts - and more importantly, my heart - to be filled with the fabric of its daily life; its wonders and its horrors, and the things that make the country all that it is (both outside, and alongside, the events on the news). When the surface is barely scratched in the utterly majestic The Sea Cloak and Other Stories, every single part initially feels different from my own lived experience but, upon closer inspection, the universality of the human condition and the insidious nature of societal structure becomes all-too apparent. After-all, reading about our differences, I always feel, weirdly only ends up making our similarities more clear in our minds.
Nayrouz Qarmout manages to paint all that Palestine is in vivid, startling detail; her word choice, the beats of her sentences, and her choice of majorly female central characters, come together to form an unflinching portrayal of life in modern-day Gaza. And honestly, this stark, candid depiction of a society upended, shows more of the territory’s everyday reality than a news article ever could.

Thanks to Comma Press for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Head on over to for this book, as well as all of the others featured in my reviews, complete with the added bonuses of free worldwide shipping and bringing a little joy to my life.

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