The amazing marginalia of In Search of Fatima

I will admit, I was a bit skeptical of the title, In Search of Fatima, that Ghada Karmi chose for her memoir about growing up in Palestine in the 1940s and then emigrating to England.  But it came highly recommended and parts of the story are well told, especially the depiction of the way the sectarian fighting preceding the founding of Israel made sudden intrusions into the insular domestic life of a child.

I happened to read a copy from the New York Public Library and as luck would have it a previous reader had made extensive notes in the margin that built into a profile of a shrewish and ungenerous reader with, it seems, a prurient interest in Arab social liberties.

The first margin note was this one, a single word that gives a hint of what is to come:

Dancing and singing like a slut

Then there was nothing more for nearly a hundred pages before a slow acceleration of commentary that soon came to appear on almost every page.  I will reproduce them below but the reader’s politics intrigue.  She — I assume it is a she, from the looping old-fashioned script — seems quite hostile to Ghada Karmi’s emerging Palestinian identity, which makes you wonder why she chose to read this book; indeed, the final “Londonistan” comment suggests a dislike of immigrants generally.  There’s no sisterhood to be had here, though: Ghada is dismissed as a “plainer version of Benazir Bhutto” and her mother as a “sad sack” who should be more cheerful because “daddy’s handsome” — never mind that the point of the memoir is that she fled her home under threat of gunfire so might reasonably have cause to be unhappy.


What a sad sack your mother is

Nobody is sympathetic to the Palestinians

A wise move

I did ask too much

Otherwise youd be an ingrate

How can they be in exile

Many crazy Europeans

Marlon Brando is red-neck looking and dirty

Palestinian resistance terrorists

Luckily the communists lost and we won

Yasser Arafat is dead and gone

You look like a plainer version of Benazir Bhutto

No chance to wear skimpy miniskirts in Palestine

Stupid not to become British

Not like now, Londistan


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