As an American Jew and a Zionist, I confess to being impressed and intrigued, as well as troubled, by the voice of Edward W. Said in After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives (Pantheon: $14.95; also available in hardcover, $22.95). Said, a professor of literature at Columbia University and a familiar figure in the Western media, was born in Jerusalem, reared in Cairo, and now lives in the United States: He is a self-described Palestinian nationalist with a mastery of Western culture, an accomplished intellectual who puts his considerable analytical and rhetorical skills at the service of his people. "After the Last Sky" is an important book, potentially an influential book, and necessarily an unsettling one.
The book "After the Last Sky" is presented as Said's musings over the black-and-white images of Swiss photographer Jean Mohr, who has documented the lives and landscapes of Palestinian Arabs in Israel and the Arab world. Said's method--and, more to the point, his mission--is to explain and enlarge upon these commonplace images of Arab life: the household, the mosque, the marketplace, the fields, the refugee camp. His prose--impressionistic and passionate--is an uneasy blend of bittersweet reminiscence, caustic political analysis, and pure Fanonesque rage.
"Why these natives in their untidy backwardness could not impress the Zionists, much less the rest of the world, with their presence is something I still cannot really understand," he writes of the Arab population of Palestine during the formative years of Zionist settlement and early Jewish statehood. "It is as if the Zionist web of detail and its drama, in alliance with our own inability and recalcitrance to dramatize and speak about ourselves, screened the Palestinians not only from the world but from ourselves as well."