On the Other Side of the Wall: A Review of Code Name: Butterfly

code-name-butterflyThe nameless narrator who gives herself the code name (or nom de guerre) of Butterfly is on the cusp of adolescence, the third of six children in a Muslim Palestinian family. She watches her father come home every night, tired to the bone from his job as a foreman on the farm of Israeli settlers Gabby and Yuval. Sometimes Gabby and Yuval send candy to the children, but they also have total power over this family. In the room she shares with her two sisters, Butterfly keeps her questions hidden in an imaginary treasure chest, questions like why her older sister Zainab cries herself to sleep, or how she can be best friends with both Mays and Haya when Mays dreams of joining the Palestinian struggle and Haya’s father and grandfather are rumored to be collaborators with the Israelis. Translated from the Arabic by Nancy N. Roberts and published by Neem Tree Press (which has published the book in two parallel editions: in Arabic and English), Code Name: Butterfly contains five vignettes that span a crucial year in its protagonist’s life, as she turns from a girl to a woman, falls in love for the first time, and has her heart broken—more than once. Her personal story is inseparable from the story of her village, where martyrdom is a fact of life and can happen from a car accident as easily as from an Israeli bullet.

Bsharat was born in 1975 in a village in Palestine and received her master’s degree from An-Najah National University in Nablus. Code Name: Butterfly is one of the few YA novels available in English that presents life under occupation from the perspective of a Palestinian writer. The unusual style, more summary than scene, works because Bsharat draws readers into the lives of her protagonist, her family, and her friends, revealing the contradictions and conflicts of living under occupation. As Butterfly’s beloved Baba points out, the villagers are often their own worst enemies, and the personal squabbles and betrayals at the heart of this novel make for a fascinating and enlightening read. A useful glossary defines Arabic words used in the text and summarizes the key historical events that affect the characters’ present-day lives. Code Name: Butterfly was named to the 2012 IBBY Honour List of outstanding books, selected from publications in more than 70 countries.

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