Balcony on the Moon: Coming of Age in Palestine

By Ibtisam Barakat

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016, 192 pages

Reviewed by Maha Hunedi

I feel I can’t do this book Justice no matter what I say about it. This author has a way with words that captures your heart & imagination. It is seldom that the sequel is as good as its predecessor. Balcony on The Moon is the exception that proves the rule. The author continues where she left off in her first book Tasting the Sky.

This book spans the author’s life from 7 years till she graduates high school. For an autobiography about a young girl’s life in occupied Palestine, Balcony on The Moon is immensely enthralling. 

Ibtisam Barakat must deal with her precarious existence under occupation, the traditions of her family, her generation & her society, the injustices inflicted upon Palestinians under occupation in particular, and upon women in general… Luckily, she’s a stubborn individual with a will of steel & a heart of gold. The first time she sees the summary of the declaration of human rights, posted on a wall at the UNRWA office, she copies every word and keeps it in her pocket. When the secretary, at a factory Ibtisam works for during summer vacation, violates article 5 of the declaration of human rights by undermining the dignity of an older employee, Ibtisam stands up for him and quits the job she fiercely fought her parents to have. It was enough she had to endure the Israeli violations of human rights, she wasn’t going to take it from her own people as well.

Young Ibtisam is an old soul, wise beyond her years. Her teacher once observed that she sees words in a different way, her response was; ” the word ‘spell’ does not only mean to list the letters, but to cast a magic spell by saying the right words…”  This young student cast her magic spell in a West Bank / Gaza wide composition contest, held by the UNRWA educational office, where the competitors were shown a blank screen & asked to write what they saw. She began, “here on this white screen, there used to be a country made of many cities… ” And ended, “This screen is not a screen. It is a scream… I cry for it…” Predictably, she won! If you want to experience the heart-rending adversity of Ibtisam‘s world, and the magic of the words she uses to describe it, read Balcony on The Moon.

Perhaps you might meet her on her whimsical balcony, on a full moon night.

Ibtisam Barakat

Award-winning, Palestinian-American author, poet, translator, artist and educator. Ibtisam Barakat (pronunciation) (Arabic spelling: ابتسام بركات ) was born in Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem, and grew up in Ramallah, Palestine. She came to the US for an internship at The Nation magazine in New York City. She holds two Masters degrees, and has taught Language Ethics at Stephens College. She authors in both English and Arabic. Her work centers on healing social injustices, especially in the lives of young people. Her writings exist in numerous translations.  

Guest Contributor

Maha Huneidi 

Maha Huneidi was born in Kuwait to a Palestinian family from Lyd. She worked as a writer/editor for a bimonthly magazine and Technical Newsletter for the Loss Prevention Department in Saudi Aramco. She is now retired and lives in Portland, Oregon.