London: In 1948, a young Palestinian woman stumbled across a group of orphans in the streets of Jerusalem. Hind Husseini listened as they described a massacre in their village, Deir Yassin. She then took them home and created the Dal El-Tifel school and orphanage, believing that education was the best hope for her people.
"Our future state will need shrewd, intelligent young women, not martyrs," Husseini says at one point.
This true-life story is the basis of the new novel ‘Miral’ by Palestinian-born Italian journalist Rula Jebreal, who spins a coming-of-age story of one girl in the orphanage. Miral`s sheltered life begins to change after she tutors children in a refugee camp and witnesses the wretched living conditions and treatment of her countrymen. She wonders: "What sense does it make to teach English to children who may not ever become adults?"
Miral starts sneaking out of school to attend the youth demonstrations of the first intifada, a path that leads her to a budding romance with a fellow activist and, after she suffers a brutal interrogation, to a sojourn in the mixed city of Haifa, where she befriends an Israeli girl. The book`s prose is a little stilted at times, perhaps because it`s a translation. But on the whole, ‘Miral’ tells a gripping story with nuanced characters and historical context that thoroughly humanises the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Freida Pinto (‘Slumdog Millionaire’) stars in a film adaptation of the novel, directed by Julian Schnabel, that is expected to be released in the US next March.