Where the Streets Had a Name

Randa Abdel-Fattah

Where the Streets Had a Name
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Where the Streets Had a Name

Randa Abdel-Fattah

I need to see Sitti Zeynab one last time. To know if I will have the courage to go ahead with my plan. The two nurses look frazzled and smile wearily at me. ‘We must leave now,’ they say in urgent tones. ‘I won’t be long,’ I reassure them and I jump up onto the back of the ambulance. I can smell the air of her village, pure and scented. I can see her village as though it were Bethlehem itself. I can smell the almond trees. Hear my heels click on the courtyard tiles. See myself jumping two steps at a time down the limestone stairs. I can see Sitti Zeynab sitting in the front porch of the house. I only have to remember that walk through her memories and I know I can make my promise. I’ve already lost once. I refuse to lose again. ‘Stay alive,’ I whisper. ‘And you shall touch that soil again.’

Thirteen-year-old Hayaat is on a mission. She believes a handful of soil from her grandmother’s ancestral home in Jerusalem will save her beloved Sitti Zeynab’s life. The only problem is the impenetrable wall that divides the West Bank, as well as the check points, the curfews, the permit system and Hayaat’s best-friend Samy, who is mainly interested in football and the latest elimination on X-Factor, but always manages to attract trouble.

But luck is on their side. Hayaat and Samy have a curfew-free day to travel to Jerusalem. However, while their journey may only be a few kilometres long, it may take a lifetime to complete.


I find myself often questioning the place of empathy in the modern world. Not its necessity, but its importance. Especially when I feel myself glazing over at the latest reports on the Middle East. So it is with a newly awakened sense of empathetic responsibility that I encourage everyone to read this book. Not simply because it drives home the immediacy and truth of living a displaced life but rather because in spite of these heavy subjects, it is a fantastic, funny book.

It focuses on the stilted and hilarious life of Hayatt, a teen with a mission. Her grandmother falls ill and Hayatt resolves to travel the short distance to her grandmother’s hometown of Jerusalem to help her. Even thought this is a short journey, the travel permits, curfews and restrictions threaten even the simplest of plans. Do they make it? Well, we do need a few Middle Eastern happy endings.

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