The Sea Cloak by Nayrouz Qarmout review – debut short story collection

A brutal rendering of daily life in Gaza is a picture of innocence corrupted

In her debut short story collection, the Palestinian writer and women’s rights campaigner Nayrouz Qarmout gives a brutal rendering of daily life in Gaza. It’s a picture of innocence corrupted: children playing “Jews and Arabs”, a girl distracted from homework by the buzzing of “a big mosquito that launches rockets from the sky”. Explosive, resonant images are conjured in Qarmout’s confident, arresting voice.

Tradition and religion are shown to be just as damaging as military violence. In the title story (translated by Charis Bedrin) a girl nearly drowns thanks to the clothes she must wear for modesty; in “Breastfeeding” (translated by Perween Richards, as are the remaiing stories), 13‑year-old Sara assiduously studies in order to leave their family’s mud-walled shack for university, only to be forced to marry her cousin. When, a generation on, Sara lets her daughter Yara marry an older man she met on MSN Messenger and move to Paris – a seeming escape – the constraints of tradition continue: Yara is not allowed to leave his house.

Qarmout refuses to portray her characters as victims. Yara returns and Sara resolves to support her so she can finish her studies. Education is repeatedly shown to be vital; an older brother instructs his siblings: “Buy a notebook and a pen so you can learn to write like me.”

• The Sea Cloak is published by Comma (£9.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 020-3176 3837. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only.

Emily Rhodes

The GuardianTramp

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