In the Land of My Birth: A Palestinian Boyhood, the critically-acclaimed autobiographical narrative by Reja-e Busailah, is the winner of the 2018 Palestine Book Awards. Lila Abu-Lughod has called the book, “Densely layered, vivid, and angry” and the “chronicle of a boy’s unfolding understanding of a troubled world that could easily stand on a shelf beside Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Words or Wole Soyinka’s Aké.” Naomi Shihad Nye has said that Busailah’s work is a “masterpiece of detail, sensory significance, a brilliant child’s experience of the world of Palestine,” and Elias Khoury praised the book as “the most eloquent account of Lydda’s tragedy that exists.”
In the Land of My Birth recounts the coming of age of a blind Palestinian boy of modest milieu during the turbulent years leading up to the fall of Palestine in 1948. Above all, it is the boy’s life—his struggles to make his way in the sighted world, his upbringing, schooling, friendships, and adventures. It is a compelling human story with a mine of information on popular culture and customs, the educational system, and Palestinian life. While the looming conflict forms the essential backdrop, it comes to the fore only when it impinges directly on the boy’s world. The fact that the memoir unfolds largely in “real time,” with events, conversations, and situations recounted not retrospectively but as they are experienced, provides a rare window on the political attitudes, social views, legends, prejudices, perceptions and misperceptions of ordinary Palestinians at the time, unmediated and unvarnished. Essential reading for anyone interested in the cultural, social, and political history of Palestine, the condition of blindness, and the education of the blind.