Gazing up at the stars amidst a stark desert landscape in Israel. Hearing of the harassment residents endure at checkpoints along the West Bank. Savoring grilled cuisine made by someone affectionately referred to as “the chicken man.”
While listening to Lis Harris’ richly detailed accounts of her life abroad while conducting research for her book, “In Jerusalem: Three Generations of an Israeli Family and a Palestinian Family,” it is easy to understand why she will soon oversee Columbia University’s writing program.
Some of Harris’ vivid stories were conveyed last night at the University of Findlay during readings of three book excerpts. Woven into her narratives are granular specifics about time, temperature, color, movement, emotion, and much more that convey her communicative and educational experience as a former New Yorker staff writer and current professor.
Harris’ immersive writing for “In Jerusalem” was accomplished following more than a decade’s worth of trips between East and West Jerusalem, where she met and lived with families who are experiencing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over sacred land.
She described her camping trip with an Israeli family as one surrounded by “cool stony whiteness.” The country, she wrote is a “land of dreams, longing… and contention.” Waiting in a hot car at a traffic-jammed checkpoint in the village of Kalandia for entry back to Jerusalem, “you are stuck going nowhere. You cannot steer your car and you cannot steer your life,” she explains.
Harris wrote “In Jerusalem” as a counterpoint to typical political and religious discourse regarding the conflict. She sought stories from individuals and incorporated those with political analysis in order to convey a sense of reality that can easily get lost amidst theoretical pondering and pontificating.
After her readings, during an audience question-and-answer session, she noted, “I had a stomach ache almost every day I was there.” The tension, she said, was incessantly palpable.
The region has not always been this way, she pointed out; it was changed “by colonial intrusion.” Yet Harris said her visits there have given her a sense of pessimism. “Do I have hope? Not much, I’m sorry to say,” she admitted.
“In Jerusalem: Three Generations of an Israeli Family and a Palestinian Family” was published in September by Beacon Press.