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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)
Code Name: Butterfly
by Ahlam Bsharat
Age Range: 12+
Butterfly is a young teenage Palestinian girl growing up surrounded by conflict. As she narrates her story Butterfly draws us into her world. She observes the fragile environment around her and finds she is compelled to question everything.
Butterfly is bright and articulate, delivering her observations and thoughts about the injustices and implications of the Israeli occupation with wit and irony. Life is confusing. Every day throws up new challenges or difficult questions and she has to find some way of coping with them.
As a way of dealing with her inner turmoil Butterfly creates a form of resilience – a treasure chest in her imagination where she squirrels away her dreams and the difficult questions she will need to find an answer to one day:
Why is ‘honour’ such a dangerous word?
Why is her Uncle marrying his dead brother's wife?
Is her father a collaborator for the occupiers?
Why is marriage such a miserable affair in her country?
This precious treasure chest allows Butterfly to find a place of strength in her mind, a secret way to find peace in a world of conflict and uncertainty.
‘The treasure chest was like a cocoon that would let her turn from a caterpillar into a colourful butterfly and then could fly high up in the sky. Maybe people are hatched from questions the way chickens and bugs are hatched from eggs and larvae’.
Code Name: Butterfly by Palestinian author Ahlam Bsharat, translated from Arabic by Nancy Roberts, is a powerful short novel dealing with the age-old conflict between Israel and Palestine. The daily tensions of Palestinian life under Israeli military occupation are dealt with in a clever way from a teenage perspective. Using beautiful, descriptive prose Bsharat is able to give Butterfly a voice – her name symbolising the flying away to freedom.
'I unfurled my wings and flew up and away with the shimmering butterfly cloud. Even the sheep romping in the pen came flying with us. When we reached a place over the city of boxes, we hovered there as I opened my traditional thobe at the top near my heart and scattered my questions and dreams, like matchsticks of all different sizes, colours and shapes'.
This is a poignant story that not only deals with the conflict but also the everyday issues that affect any young teenager such as friendship, family and unrequited love. It was chosen for the IBBY Honour List, (a biennial selection of outstanding, recently published books, honouring writers, illustrators and translators from IBBY member countries), in 2012. A recognition that it richly deserves for its searingly honest and brave portrayal of the harsh realities of life living under occupation seen through the eyes of the young protagonist who is trying hard to make sense of it all.