“My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness” follows the life of Taha Muhammad Ali and the now destroyed village where he grew up. Taha is a poet from Palestine and remembers a time before the second world war, when the area was under a British Mandate.
Adina Hoffman undertook the task of painstakingly reconstructing, not only Taha’s life, but the history of Saffuriyyah, now known as Tzippori. Detailing the research efforts she went to, including a revealing trip to the Israeli Defence Force archives, she pieces together both the physical evidence, and the emotional response from villagers who were expelled from their land by Dov Yarmonovitch.
The book falls distinctly into two parts; before the 1948 war and the history of Saffuriyyah, and after the 1948 war as Taha found new identity and meaning in poetry. Taha is refreshingly apolitical and talks almost exclusively of the troubles as a parting with his childhood and family home, rather than a battle of ideologies or religions.
Always making the most of his opportunities, Taha supported his lame father and large family by selling eggs from the local women at the market in a nearby town. This small time trading led to several shops being run by Taha – including during his time as a refugee in Lebanon. Once in Nazareth, Taha once again took up shopkeeping, but also set aside time for reading and writing. He learnt some English and improved his Arabic.
Not flourishing as a writer until later in life, Taha was still very active on Arabic newspapers and publications during his twenties and thirties, helping to read, edit and organise. He was close friends with some major players in both the literary and political goings on in Nazareth during his youth.
Hoffman is very candid about the methodology used in her interviews as well as the process of researching an extinct town. This book will serve as a helpful starting point for many researchers, though it is not presented as a history book and does not attempt to be one.
Anecdotes and asides carry the reader through the dates and points of fact. The book presents a vivid picture of cookery, farming and social life in both Palestine, and what would become Israel. It also analyses a selection of Taha’s poetry, which is the central reason why he was chosen as the subject.
Adina Hoffman is an American Jew who moved to Israel sixteen years ago. Taha Muhammad Ali still owns a souvenir shop in Nazareth.
“My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness” has been short listed for the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize. A new paperback edition will be available from 10th June 2010.