Trees for the Absentees

* Shortlisted for the 2020 2020 GLLI Translated YA Prize *

* Shortlisted for the 2020 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation *

By Ahlam Bsharat, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and Sue Copeland
Published in the UK by Neem Tree Press, Sept 2019

Philistia’s world is that of an ordinary university student, except that in occupied Palestine, and when your father is in indefinite detention, nothing is straightforward.

Philistia is closest to her childhood, and to her late grandmother and her imprisoned father, when she’s at her part-time job washing women’s bodies at the ancient Ottoman hammam in Nablus, the West Bank. A midwife and corpse washer in her time, Grandma Zahia taught Philistia the ritual ablutions and the secrets of the body: the secrets of life and death.

On the brink of adulthood, Philistia embarks on a journey through her country’s history – a magical journey, and one of loss and centuries of occupation. As trees are uprooted around her, Philistia searches for a place of refuge, a place where she can plant a memory for the ones she’s lost.


‘A most ordinary, magical, devastating story.’

– Dr Nora Parr

‘The collaborative translation between Ahmedzai Kemp and Copeland is admirable: in particular, the dialogue reads very well – there were times when I could visualise the characters’ interchange so clearly, it read almost like a playscript. There are some evident challenges, most notably with play on words in the original Arabic. I am not a fan of cultural adaptation, and was pleased that for the most part Ahmedzai Kemp and Copeland allowed the cultural specificity of the text to remain.’

– Helen Vassallo, Translating Women blog

‘The translation by Sue Copeland and Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp is accessible, with touches of the original Arabic that help really ground the story in its West Bank setting. The reader, though, has to be willing to enter Philistia’s world and to let go of the desire for neatly resolved narratives.’

– Klem-Marí Cajigas, Global Literature in Libraries Initiative

About the author


The Best YA Books: 10 Middle East Authors Worth Reading: Ilham Essileh recommends Bsharat’s Code Name: Butterfly (translated by Nancy Roberts)

Profile at Palestine Book Awards