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The Crack Magazine

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Behind You Is The Sea by Susan Muaddi Darraj

The title of this fine novel is taken from a speech purportedly given by Tariq ibn Ziyad, an Umayyad commander who initiated the conquest of what is now present day Spain back in the 8th century. He burned his men’s ships in the harbour, so they couldn’t sail home, which made fighting their only option. It’s a phrase that feels apt here because Susan Muaddi Darraj’s series of interlocking stories detail the travails of three modern-day families who have upped sticks and left their homeland of Palestine for the US. For many, fighting – chiefly for a decent life for themselves – is all they have left. Some have to work two exhausting jobs, while others must confront the drip-feed of racism (one of the best tales, that of American Palestinian teenager Layla Marwan, sees her calling out her school for staging a production of Disney’s version of Aladdin, with its attendant racist tropes pertaining to Arabs). Taken individually, these vignettes – each of which focuses on a single family member – are perfect little short stories, but taken as a whole they offer up a rich panoply of a community that includes everyone from cops to rich property developers to spoiled teenagers. The stories are humane, sometimes shocking (‘The Hashtag’), sometimes filled with humour (‘Mr Ammar Gets Drunk at the Wedding’), but all are vivid and bring to life a people who – particularly in this year of all years – many have only been all too happy to label “other”. RM

Swift Press