Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood

by Ibtisam Barakat

Ibtisam Barakat grew up in Ramallah during the late 1960s and 1970s. With a poet’s... read more

Ibtisam Barakat grew up in Ramallah during the late 1960s and 1970s. With a poet’s gift for acute observation and expression, she chronicles her early childhood in this riveting memoir. When the Six Day War erupted in early June of 1967, preschool-aged Ibtisam, her two older brothers, and her parents became refugees along with thousands of other Palestinians, making a harrowing flight from Israel to the relative safety of Jordan. When they are finally given permission to return to Ramallah, her family does so both eagerly and anxiously. They try to return to the rhythm of their daily life, but it has been altered forever. Ibtisam is aware of her mother’s fears and the strain on her family even as she and her brothers experience the more typical joys and sorrows that go hand-in-hand with childhood. In recounting these times, Ibtisam seamlessly weaves together the ordinary and the extraordinary, from her fascination with letters and the excitement of learning to read to the dangerous thrill of playing near the Israeli soldiers who trained not far from their rural home outside Ramallah. The narrative is framed by several of the author’s poems, and by chapters set in 1981, when teenage Ibtisam is “midway from forgetting to remembering.” These chapters reveal a life filled with challenges both typical of adolescence (tensions with her mother) and far beyond what most teen readers in the U.S. have experienced (detention by soldiers, and the very real fears that her city may be under siege). They clearly mark a point of transition between the little girl she was, resilient and loving and eager to read and write and learn, and the woman whose adult understanding—still openhearted but no longer innocent—informs a narrative grounded in that little girl’s perspective on all that was happening to and around her, from the haunting to the beautiful. (Age 13 and older).

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2008

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