Tasting the Sky : A Palestinian Childhood

By Ibtisam Barakat

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007, 192 pages

Reviewed by Maha Hunedi

This book begins in 1981, when our author’s bus is stopped at the Surda checkpoint between Birzeit and Ramallah. She’s detained for hours along with all the other bus passengers. To calm herself, she goes into a reverie that takes her to her safe-haven, postbox 34. This box is her own little world of freedom where she receives letters from her pen pals, to whom she writes about anything and everything, except her traumatic childhood experiences.

This account is a flashback told in the innocent voice of a three-and-a-half-year-old girl who is separated from her parents, for a whole day, during the six-day war in 1967. As the planes fly overhead, the family flees their home. Ibtisam who is still trying to lace up her left shoe suddenly realizes that there’s no one there. As fear strikes her little heart she leaves her right shoe and goes out into the dark. The courage of this child, in her quest to reunite with her parents is heart wrenching.

Ibtisam Barakat draws you into her innocent, imaginative little life with magic strings that she weaves with her words and metaphors. She makes friends with a baby donkey in whom she confides. When she must leave him behind, she then makes friends with the first letter of the alphabet and confides in the piece of chalk that drew him, until it finally crumbles into dust. This child’s life is full of mixed emotions; fear, courage, agony, happiness, love, disappointment, and fulfillment as she endures the occupation along with her family.

The book ends in 1971 when a broken hearted Ibtisam moves again from her childhood home, this time for good.

In writing this book the author frees herself of the emotions that compelled her to shield her childhood. Her story is not done though. It continues in her next book ‘Balcony on the Moon: Coming of age in Palestine’

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.