By Ramzy Baroud
Pluto Press, 2018, 280 pages, £14.99
Reviewed by Romana Rubeo
“In The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story, Baroud engages in the crucial reclaiming and decolonization of the Palestinian narrative, or what he calls ‘a history from below’ – the retelling of the Palestinian story from the point of view of its refugees.”
Yoav Litvin, Truthout
“Tell me, daddy. What is the use of history?” This is the opening sentence of Marc Bloch’s The Historian’s Craft. And this is probably the same question that echoed in Dr. Ramzy Baroud’s mind, inspiring his methodology and his approach to the narration of the historical events contained in this book. What is the use of Palestinian history, and who is most qualified to render it in the most authentic way possible? The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story contends with these questions, revealing a world of new possibilities, an alternative history, even: a world where the main characters are not kings, political leaders, or members of the ruling or intellectual elites. In this book, rank, prestige, or clan is of no value whatsoever.
A world seen through the eyes of the true protagonists of history, the Palestinian refugees, with one frame of reference in mind, and nothing else: the refugees’ own stories – how they perceive their individual struggles within the larger, more encompassing story of survival and resistance, in an attempt to offer an authentic Palestinian narrative, one that not only challenges the Zionist discourse – ever violent, dismissive, and undeniably racist – but also contests some of the existing narratives that purport to be speaking on behalf of the Palestinian people.
The Last Earth is a narrative nonfiction story of modern Palestinian history. It comprises the stories of complex characters whose accounts overlap in terms of the collective experience. To provide a more vivid rendition of emotive personal histories, the author has intentionally taken on the personality of each individual storyteller, internalized (as much as possible) and retold the stories in a way that aims to respect the dignity of each narrative, while bearing in mind the receptivity of the readers and their ability to engage with the text. The book seems to “destructure” and then restructure the “Aristotelian unities.” The circular timeline allows the reader to follow the characters in different eras, because even the timeline itself is a unique rendition of the perception of time held by the refugees.
The final product is closer to the stories of Rosemary Sayigh and Salim Tamari’s documenting of people’s history than to that of the typical narration of Palestine. At times, the narration style may seem somewhat similar to the work of Ghassan Kanafani, Ibrahim Nasrallah, and Abdulrahman Munif, where reality and fiction merge to form a whole new category of literature.
The readers learn the stories of several generations of Palestinians in exile, beginning with the Nakba of 1948, in a never-ending journey to find what they perceive as their Last Earth.