Trees for the Absentees: Novella Review

Trees for the Absentees:
Novella Review

A coming-of-age story set in occupied Palestine, Trees for the Absentees uses a magical realist touch to bring to life the experiences of a university student named Philistia. First published in Arabic in 2013, Ahlam Bsharat’s book was a runner up for the Etisalat Award For Arabic Children’s Literature. It has now been translated to English for the first time by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and Sue Copeland and published in the UK by Neem Tree Press. 

Bsharat, who alongside her writing career works at the Ministry of Culture in Ramallah, has painted a vivid portrait of a life on the brink of adulthood, surrounded by uncertainty. Family ties run strong, even across distance or death. Philistia’s father has been detained indefinitely, and she writes to him, unable to visit for years. The memory of her Grandma Zahia is a source of reflection and guidance. These relationships form a backdrop for the oncoming adulthood of Philistia herself, her friendships, imaginings, and loves. Fantasy weaves with reality as she explores history, heritage and memory.  

This novella is a short read at only 90 pages, but evokes a deeply felt sense of place and emotion. It is best suited to young adults, but older readers will also find a lot of food for thought and perspective, especially for those interested in the conflict and occupation in Palestine. 

Neem Tree Press is a young publishing house with an international, intercultural list that seeks to broaden horizons and generate discussion. Trees for the Absentees is available from Waterstones, Hive, Amazon, and Book Depository for £8.99. Find out more about Neem Tree Press at:

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