The narrative of the womanly path of pain
Through a novel that exceeded four hundred pages, the Palestinian writer and journalist Nadia Harhash created a highly differentiated narrative distinguished from what we saw in “The Literature of Major Issues.” The most important feature of her novel “On the Trails of Mariam” is the thin thread that continues in its intensity and warmth throughout the entire book: Humans\ men and women, in the end, are a historical fruit and outcome constantly formed through their experiences, not a finished achievement. Heavy historical burden. This is what made the novel based on many international intertexts that gave the narrative its depth and human roots, from the stories of the Virgin and Magdalene, to the Divine Comedy, to Ishtar, to George Orwell, to Nefferi, to Henry Miller, and others.
With the breadth of its topics, its controversy, and its times, the novel “On the Trails of Mariam” turned into a narrative of the Arab time that found itself expelled from history, burdened with a history that it has not been able to re-read and understand to change its present, with the constant fear of tragic endings.
A fractured, broken Arab world, living within a myth, loaded with a heavy legacy of defeats and failures, appears in the novel as a symbolism in which man\woman is manifested in all his\her contradiction, lightness, weakness, and tyranny. History in the present indicates a time that has not changed much in the chain of reproduction of fear, defeats, and terror. The characters are named after Palestinian villages and cities, as indicators that refer to Palestinian cities surreptitiously grabbed from their families. The writer separates her commentaries in the margins as if she wants to preserve the signs from the disappearance that threatens everything. Hence, for the novelist, history is nothing but a vehicle for a present statement rapidly changing towards more collapse and disintegration through the tragedies of four female characters.
The novel touched on vast historical spaces through women’s “small history.” Behind the narrative emerges a dilapidated, almost hopeless, present of the Nakba, which in one second brought the Palestinian people to the brink of vanishing and tragic ends, had it not been for the resistance element carried by the displaced within them, insisting on long-standing keys, rusted, but its symbolism still exists. The power is not in the key that “replacement” changed its doors, but in its connotations that will not end and be passed on to generations, and puts the novelist in front of a difficult question: Is everything over? Even the Arab revolutions ended in crushing and destructive civil wars without changing anything profound. Instead, they were replaced by unprecedented despicable terrorism that made the Arab countries its damaging target.
The novelist diversified the tragedies to touch all Palestinian and Arab segments in their extensions. The story of four «Mariams» is brought together by the circumstances of exile and calamities and separated by life. They meet after twenty years in the centenary of their Jerusalem school in which they studied. Each of them had her chapter in the novel bearing her name, and the novelist added to it a fifth chapter dedicated to “Tamar.” Tamar has no prominent role other than being a mediator whose dream of liberation from the mortal body leads her to “suicide/martyrdom” at the Jerusalem checkpoints.
The meeting of the “Mariams” to celebrate the centenary turns into a tragedy with the death of Tamar. She broke the curfew in a desperate attempt to enter Jerusalem through the checkpoint. The “Mariams” go out at her funeral to bid her farewell from the cemetery overlooking the Church of Mary Magdalene in a funeral hymn (Dante the Divine Comedy).
Mariams, graduates of the same Jerusalem school are scattered by fate across the entire Palestinian map: Jerusalem, Nablus, Ramallah, Gaza, and the American exiles. We get to know them and their tragic journeys in which the catastrophe, accompanied by masculinity from afar, constitutes the main tragic element through the autobiographical narrative of each of them, in which four very cruel autobiographies are formed. The first who moved to Nablus, Mariam, experiences a love experience with Jibreen, the desperate lover, who furnishes her with the most beautiful moments. He quickly betrays her, with his assistant and marries her. She entersinto the hell of the path of pain that extends forever from the tragedy of Ishtar, passing through the two Marys: the Virgin and Magdalene. She refuses to divorce him and finds her way down the path of revenge, in turn betraying him with his favorite employee, Qasim. She creates another path for her life by throwing the niqabdespite the attempts of her religious friend Tamar and her advice to return to the right path.
Mariam II of Gaza was raped by her brother in her childhood. The mother punishes her as if she is the culprit. She moves to the Jerusalem school, and upon her graduation, she is married to her cousin, who brutally rapes her even before marriage. She becomes his cheap sex kingdom and the mother of two sick sons who die in hospital due to the Israeli bombing fails to obtain a divorce due to her brother’s rejection; the same brother who has imprisoned her in an incestuous relationship.
The dark image of Magdalene is almost embodied in the image of Mariam the Second, not even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her.” But the help of Mariam the Third, who lives in America, allowed her to move to Ramallah and find work. There she is introduced to Faroun al Ghoshi, who reproduced the same savagery. She divorces her husband, gets to know Asad, her university student whom she loves, and rebuilds her life with her strong will and desire to live.
Mariam III married childhood friend Daniel and traveled with him to America. In their short marriage, she collides with his homosexuality and frequent betrayals. She leaves him and enters into an affair with a married Simon, who imprisons her in his masculinity and steals her freedom. She finds her freedom in writing, and she liberates herself from the ailment of masculinity, so she writes a novel and travels to Syria as a war correspondent. She gets to know a Syrian artist, Jihad. They live a beautiful love experience, but her family rejects her marriage to a non-Christian, even though she does not care about religion. We do not know the outcome of this experience.
Mary IV was the luckiest and perhaps the most insightful of her life. She marries the person she loved, as she is of multiple identities, cultures, and religions through the historical and aristocratic\dynastic components she bears, from a Coptic grandmother and a Jewish one, and she is a Palestinian Muslim. This gave her much freedom to see her. She marries the lawyer Fares and gives birth to Jaffa, who soon loses her on the day of delivery; perhaps it was a slight hint of the loss of Jaffa and other cities. Mariam IV is almost the archetypal Mary, unconquerable by religious, ethnic, or linguistic differences; She is a world citizen.
Finally, Tamar, whose path is not very different from the paths of her tragic friends. She moves to Paris to complete her Art studies, and there she gets acquainted with Bernardo, who gives her great love, but he dies suddenly, leaving eternal sadness in her depths. She returns to Nablus and marries the devout Ayoub, who imposes on her his understanding of religion with defeated masculinity. She lives an acrimonious split between a beautiful past with Bernardo and a miserable present that plunged her into endless mourning. She wishes to die to catch up with Bernardo, which happens when an Israeli sniper hits her at the checkpoint in Jerusalem.
It seems clear that one of the stakes of the novel “On the Trails of Mariam” is to remove the illusory “holiness” from the Palestinian and to deal with him as a human being within circumstances that define him, as in the entire Arab world. And she made the daily struggles of Palestinian women a means to say Palestine in its pluralism, humanity, and tragedy. The abhorrent masculinity stole all hope of life and enlightenment. And he linked the fate of women to two difficult moments governed by customs, religion, and backwardness: either absolute virginity represented by the Virgin or immorality in which Mary Magdalene appears as a sharp metaphorical expression. However, the greater feminine will made the goddess Ishtar or “the Great Mother,” who chose to search for her lover, Tammuz, risk descending to the underworld.