Book Review: ‘Before the Queen Falls Asleep’ by Huzama Habayeb and Kay Heikkinen

A poignant tale of memory, resilience, and the enduring spirit of the Palestinian diaspora

Book Title: Before the Queen Falls Asleep
Author: Huzama Habayeb
Translator: Kay Heikkinen
Publisher: MacLehose Press
Number of Pages: 288
ISBN: 978-1529415650
Date Published: Mar. 28, 2024
Price: INR 454

Before the Queen Falls Asleep by Huzama Habayeb Book Cover

Book Review

Huzama Habayeb’s “Before the Queen Falls Asleep” is a moving story that delicately ties together themes of memory, displacement, and survival, explaining that life is not simply what one lives, but what one remembers and recalls. This novel, expertly translated by Kay Heikkinen, offers a fascinating investigation of the Palestinian diaspora through the eyes of its protagonist, Jihad, a second-generation refugee reared in Kuwait who eventually becomes a prominent writer.

Jihad’s upbringing in the early chapters, defined by her parents’ expectations and the weight of financial duties, foreshadows a path of self-discovery in the face of adversity. As she navigates Kuwait University and the Gulf War, the family’s move to Jordan becomes a watershed moment in their life, demonstrating the fortitude and adaptation needed in the face of dislocation and turmoil.

Fast forward to Jihad’s middle age in Dubai, when she revisits her past with her daughter Maleka, whose impending departure from university abroad inspires her to think about family, identity, and the complexities of love and loss. Habayeb presents a vivid portrayal of Palestinian existence, highlighting the role of memory in defining one’s identity and perception of the world.

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While the novel’s plot takes a purposeful meandering path, representing the nonlinear nature of memory, the emotional resonance is obvious throughout. Jihad’s account of her life experiences, from secret funds in times of famine to the complexity of familial relationships, exemplifies the lasting spirit of perseverance in the face of hardship.

Before the Queen Falls Asleep” is a relevant and poignant translation of Habayeb’s outstanding Arabic novel, expertly conveying the daily difficulties and achievements of displaced Palestinians. With its lyrical style and subtle investigation of issues, this book creates a lasting impact, urging readers to consider the power of memory and the human spirit’s perseverance in the face of dislocation and uncertainty.

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