Cover Image: Enter Ghost

Enter Ghost

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Sonia is a British-Palestinian actress who returns to Haifa ostensibly to visit her sister, but also to try to connect with heritage. and the fact that she has not been there since the 1990s. She wants to relax and recover from a love affair gone wrong, but a friend of her sister's pulls her into a production of "Hamlet."  She's not sure why she agreed, especially when she experiences how frustrating and dangerous it is to mount any sort of Arabic theater in Israel--the checkpoints, long drives, endless waits, and occasional violence. The director and actors see this production as an act of defiance.

I enjoyed Isabella Hammad's "The Parisian" and was eager to dive into "Enter Ghost." However, the novel never took with me, probably because of the character of Sonia, who is just not appealing. She seems to have a good career in the UK, and enviable blend of stage, screen, and TV, but she's unsatisfied, restless. She gets to Haifa and her awkward interactions with family are painful. They don't seem to click with her either, even though they welcome her warmly. She's the focus of the story, and she's hard to care about.

You will like this book if you want t glimpse into the daily lives of Palestinians and the intractability of both sides of the conflict. None of the characters will grab your heart and make you care, which is what makes you read. I look forward to Hammad's next book.

"Enter Ghost" has a lot going for it, but the novel never gelled with me and didn't pull me in.
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I was eager to read Enter Ghost and to see how the author overlapped the current crises facing Palestinians and the use of Hamlet as a tool to explore those crises, but this book never gelled for me. I found it a very slow read, and I never reached a moment when it pulled me in. The prose is quite capable, so I'm thinking those with different tastes than mine might find it impressive.

I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher; the opinions are my own.
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This is what I would call a slow read but not in a negative way. I found myself lingering over every sentence and savoring the writing. Or googeling historical events as to better understand the situation in Palestine and the West Bank. Sonia lives in London and visits her sister who lives in Haifa for an extended stay. She meets local director Mariam who is staging Hamlet in Arabic in the West Bank and asks Sonia to play the part of Gertrude.
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this was such a good book, it was what I was I was looking for from this description. I really enjoyed the way Isabella Hammad wrote this. I loved getting to know Sonia Nasir as she was a interesting character. I was invested in what was going on, it was beautifully done. I can't wait to read more from Isabella Hammad.

"A  year before our father left for Paris, Maher was shot by a Lebanese militiaman outside the camp. When Haneen said this, something sparked in my memory. I had known my father had a friend who was shot in Lebanon. But I’d absorbed the information sideways."
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Isabella Hammad is the award winning writer of  The Parisian. Enter Ghost is  her second novel and a contemporary story focusing upon Palestine - the daily lives of Palestinians under occupation.
I am personally very interested in the Palestine situation and this book assisted with providing more background and emotional investment. 

In Enter Ghost we meet an establish director/actress Sonia who returns home to Palestine to visit her sister Haneen. While Sonia has lived in London, Haneen has made her life in Palestine. Sonia is reeling from her recent breakup and experiences difficulties acclimating to contemporary Palestine. When she meets a local director she is swept into an project to bring Hamlet to the West Bank. She feels she has found her people and happily takes on the role of Gertrude. The actors pour their souls into bringing Shakespeare amid violence, poverty and displacement. Will they be successful?

If you are interested in Palestine, Shakespeare, social justice and underdogs or are just ready for a nuanced and poetic story, Enter Ghost is for you!
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What strikes me the most--and really, what impressed me the most--about Enter Ghost is its writing. Everything that works about this novel works because its writing does, and everything I can say about its writing I can also say of it as a novel more broadly. Hammad's writing, here, is incisive, measured, restrained. More to the point, it is distinctly unsentimental and yet always sympathetic. It's a very sensitive novel in the way it's attuned to the nuances of its characters, especially its narrator, Sonia; it gives you such a strong sense of the fine gradations of these characters' reactions, thoughts, and feelings. That is, it's a precisely written novel because it is a sensitively written one, and it's a sensitively written novel because it is a precisely written one. It pays attention to the details, gives them the space to matter, so that the more you read the novel the more those details get added to each other, and the more richly layered the story becomes.

One part of the novel where I think this sensitivity especially shines is in the strained relationship between Sonia and her older sister, Haneen. The whole story begins with Sonia landing in Haifa, having decided to take the summer off to spend time with Haneen, who works at a university there. The relationship between these two sisters is one of the pillars of the novel: there is so much unsaid between Sonia and Haneen, and across their interactions, you get a sense for the contours of the issues they are tiptoeing around--their family, their distance, their history--but not necessarily of the full substance of those issues. They clearly care about each other, and yet many of their moments hint at a tension that, as the novel moves forward, we're waiting to boil over. And it is exactly in those moments--the tipping points when the tensions finally boil over--where Hammad's writing is especially effective. Hammad manages to write Big Scenes that feel important but not overblown, moving but never sentimental. So many of the most memorable moments in Enter Ghost are memorable not because they are filled to the brim, but because they are restrained--and because they are restrained, they are able to resonate in the true sense of the word: to reverberate, to move outwards, to linger.

Thematically, Enter Ghost is such a rich novel, too. It's about a West Bank production of Hamlet, so the question of the role of art in political resistance is very much at the forefront of the story, though certainly not in any hackneyed or simplistic way. The characters are acutely alive to this question, and think critically about what they want to accomplish not just with their production, but with their production of Hamlet specifically. A lot of the novel's substance is concentrated into this production--the politics, of course, but also the thematic concerns, the conflict, the characters, their dynamics, their backstories--and this ultimately makes it such a potent and fascinating lodestone for the story. I loved the way Hammad incorporated scenes from Hamlet into key character and story moments; I loved the camaraderie--but also the tension--between all the cast members; I loved Mariam, their brilliant director; and I just loved the way theatre as a whole provided such fertile ground for this story to go in all kinds of compelling and thought-provoking directions.

Moving, deftly written, and with a layered, distinct sense of its narrator's interiority, Enter Ghost is an excellent novel. Needless to say, I will be reading anything else that Isabella Hammad decides to write next.

Thanks so much to Grove Atlantic for providing me with an eARC of this via NetGalley!
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