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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Before We Say Goodbye
by Gabriella Ambrosio
Age Range: 14+
Set in Jerusalem in 2002, the drama takes place during a single day. Each short chapter covers an hour in the day starting at 7.00am in the morning. It follows the characters as they go about their daily lives discovering their thoughts, feelings and experiences of living in Jerusalem. As each hour passes the tension mounts building up to a horrendous climax of a suicide bombing.
Myriam is an 18 year old Israeli Jew – originally from America – who finds life hard in Jerusalem and is in shock and grieving after losing her best friend, Michael in a suicide bombing two months previously. She tries to make sense of the world she lives in.
Dima is an intelligent 18 year old Palestinian girl who is top of her class and about to get married. She is disillusioned with life and has already been dead for a good while. Nothing interests her any more – nothing except avenging herself. She can see no future for her or her people and she decides to make the greatest sacrifice of all.
Abraham is an Israeli Jew, married with children and works as a security guard. On this day he is sent to a job at the local supermarket by his agency. He feels that he has become deaf to all the words around him because he doesn’t understand them anymore. “Words flew and got soiled, and when they reached their destination they were no longer the same; you couldn’t do anything about it”
Ghassan is a 23 year old Palestinian explosives expert. On this day he is looking for the perfect location for his latest recruit to blow up.
The two sides in this conflict are clearly portrayed. Myriam feels that it wasn’t just the language that made her feel on the outside but there were other things in this country that made life unpleasant such as the armed soldiers who filled the streets. She questioned what it meant to ‘say we’re Jews? Everything was miserable in this city of “fundamentally” Jews’. While a telephone conversation of Said, Dima’s brother gives another perspective as he acknowledges that they have become violent people. “But when they have been pointing a gun at your chest since you were small and you’ve been subjected to abuse since you were born, what do you expect to become, if not violent?”
Gabriella Ambrosio’s debut novel, Before We Say Goodbye (Prima di Lasciarsi) was first published in Italy in 2004. It doesn’t take sides; it is just a beautifully written narrative of one of the tragic conflicts of the modern world. There is no bias, no judgement. What makes it all the more poignant is that is based on a true story – one of two girls who died in the same place and were mistaken for sisters.
Written in filmic, dramatic language it is both pacy and thought-provoking and will appeal to young adults and adults alike. It is endorsed by Amnesty International UK as “contributing to a better understanding of human rights and the values that underpin them.” It has become a set textbook in Italian secondary schools as well as in universities in Australia, France, Guatemala and other countries around the world. The book was also translated into Hebrew and Arabic and published in Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. It has since been adopted by schools, colleges and human rights organisations working in the region. The clear and concise story makes this difficult subject accessible to everyone and translator Alastair McEwen has done a wonderful job.