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by AR Vasquez

Malka Marom is a fascinating Canadian-Israeli artist, journalist and producer whose interests and talents cross a spectrum that only some artists dream of experiencing. As a child she had a leading role in the first movie ever filmed in Israel.

As a folk singer, she introduced world music to North America, with her albums hitting the top of the best selling charts around the world. Her music career helped her hobnob with other famous musicians. Her circle of friends include Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. An interesting fact is that she once dated Bob Dylan in the 70′s which some say was the cause of his bitter divorce with Sara Dylan.

When her music career ended, Marom wrote and hosted her own weekly radio show on CBC called Song Of Our People and also City TV’s weekly show Mosaic which featured interviews with known stars such as Joni Mitchell.

Her career in journalism along with her interests in culture, spirituality and storytelling pulled her naturally into documentary film making. Her interviews include Moshe Dayan, the infamous one-eyed Israeli general who was a key player in the creation of the State of Israel.

Marom’s documentary, The Bedouins, won the Ohio State Award and inspired her to study the language and the lives of the Bedouin people, wanting to know more about their daily life. She was troubled by how the media would focus on the political story around the Bedouins merely being “a bargaining chip for a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel”. She wanted to tell the human story of the Bedouin people whose rights in Sinai were being ignored.

Very rarely do the Bedouins let strangers into their tents, so when Marom received an invitation for her to stay with them, Marom packed her bags, left her family behind and traveled to Sinai. Only expecting to stay a few days, Marom ended up living with the Bedouins for months. This experience forever changed her perspective on life and consumed her to write her debut novel, Sulha which was received with critical acclaim.

“Very little was deliberately constructed. I knew the story, but I wrote much of it on a very subconcious level. It was an obsession – it became my life. I studied Arabic to speak with the Bedouins,” she says.

“The book was me – it was written from a place deep inside that I could not articulate. I cannot do it even now. It was as though I was pregnant and had to give birth. And no more than you can choose what kind of child you’re going to have could I choose what kind of book I was going to write. It surprised me, really.”

“Reconciliation is not all peace and love. It is learning to live with conflict, and all of us to a certain degree must do it.”– Malka Marom, FFWD Weekly

Sulha is a gorgeous story which gives the reader a detailed personal experience in the life of the Bedouin people. The title of the book “Sulha” is significant because it means forgiveness both in Hebrew and in Arabic and is also an ancient ritual or method of resolving disputes which is still used in many countries in the Middle East to this day. The sulha allows clan-based disputes reach a reconciliation between extended families when the legal system or law cannot resolve a matter.

The story takes place in 1978 and is written in the point of view of Leora, an Israeli-Canadian who after 20 years away from Israel is torn when her son is requested by Israel to do military duty in the Sinai. She has the right to refuse for him to become a pilot, despite his and her deceased husband’s family’s wishes. She is conflicted because her first husband, and father of her son, was a pilot who died in combat in Israel when her son was just a young boy. Trying to come to grips with the decision, she returns to Israel and travels to Sinai in search of finding a spiritual answer. She tries to achieve this by living with the Bedouin people.

She does not know what to expect from her journey but with her late husband’s presence still haunting her, she searches to find sulha for herself. Marom’s honest writing, which is free from writing devices or mechanics, is refreshing. She writes how she feels, what she sees and does not tie herself up with the “rules of writing” that many first time novelists are lectured into believing are the Ten Commandments to follow for writing. Marom takes us into the tents of the Bedouin women. She does not try to mystify us with a false romantic notion that the Bedouin way of life is better than the life she was leading in Canada. Instead, she opens our eyes to the simple ways the Bedouin people deal with the harshness of their lives. She shows us how humble the hard working Bedouin women are ensuring that their family is fed, clothed and housed, all without complaint. What we in the West take for granted, such as having clean running water, safe shelter, abundance of food, the Bedouin have to struggle to attain every single day. But even understanding this reality, the Bedouin people are grateful for what little they have.

The most intriguing part of Sulha is learning the cultural complexities of honour, family, traditions and respect. Leora has to be patient and learn how to be polite, to not ask questions at inappropriate times and to lower her voice when she speaks, all things which are foreign to her. The pace picks up when events happen that could possibly mean the ritual deaths of two Bedouin characters in the story.

Marom clearly embeds the experiences into the reader’s mind — from the sights, the smells, the sounds and the heat of the desert ,to the pain, the love, the strife of the Bedouin people.

The human story told through the eyes of Leora will especially appeal to women since we see more of the Bedouin women’s perspective throughout the story. However, the insight into the Bedouin ways of life will be appreciated by all readers who enjoy learning about different cultures.

My rating for Sulha is 5 out of 5 stars.

“Crucial human questions, passionately addressed, and answered in a spirit of humility . . . I rejoice in [Malka Marom's] achievement.”
—Leonard Cohen

“This is not just a book for Jews and women, it is a multi-cultural adventure. Strong and provocative and illuminating, it is told in a unique new voice.”
—Joni Mitchell

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