My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness


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A Poet's Life in the Palestinian Century

Adina Hoffman

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This first biography of a Palestinian writer also provides a moving account of the ways “ordinary” individuals are swept up by the floodtides of both war and peace

Beautifully written, and composed with a novelist’s eye for detail,this booktells the story of an exceptional man and the culture from which he emerged.

Taha Muhammad Ali was born in 1931 in the Galilee village of Saffuriyya and was forced to flee during the war in 1948. He traveled on foot to Lebanon and returned a year later to find his village destroyed. An autodidact, he has since run a souvenir shop in Nazareth, at the same time evolving into what National Book Critics Circle Award–winner Eliot Weinberger has dubbed “perhaps the most accessible and delightful poet alive today.”

As it places Muhammad Ali’s life in the context of the lives of his predecessors and peers, My Happiness offers a sweeping depiction of a charged and fateful epoch. It is a work that Arabic scholar Michael Sells describes as “among the five ‘must read’ books on the Israel-Palestine tragedy.” In an era when talk of the “Clash of Civilizations” dominates, this biography offers something else entirely: a view of the people and culture of the Middle East that is rich, nuanced, and, above all else, deeply human.

Adina Hoffman is the author of House of Windows: Portraits from a Jerusalem Neighborhood. Her essays and criticism have appeared in the Nation, the Washington Post, the Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. She lives in Jerusalem.

Named one of the top ten biographies of 2009 by Booklist

Selected as one of best 20 books of the year by the Seminary Co-op

“[A] superb biography … a remarkable achievement.”Pankaj Mishra, New York Review of Books

“[A] poignant, persuasive biography.”Choice

“[This book] reads like a novel… a biography of a Palestinian writer and the sociopolitical events that informed and shaped him as well as a look at Palestinian cultural and literary history. But it is poetry that beats at the book’s heart—the way it moves inside of Muhammad Ali, around him, the way it surprises him and questions him as he questions it.”—The American Scholar

"A triumph of sympathetic imagination, dogged research and impassioned writing. More than the story of one man's life [My Happiness] brings to light entire strata of historical and cultural experience that have been neglected or purposefully covered over. For readers of English there is no comparable work."–Robyn Creswell, The National

“Vivid and intimate, engrossing and full of memorable characters. Every scene [Hoffman] sketches comes alive.... Taha Muhammad Ali is fortunate to have had ... [her to] tell his story with such eloquence.”—Haaretz

“A rich tapestry of the personal, the literary and the political, skillfully woven by a sympathetic writer ... Hoffman's intense but often humorous book is a powerful reminder of the singularity and complexity of this most intractable of conflicts and of the ability of the human spirit to be creative in adversity."—The Guardian

“Luminous …. Looking past the usual strident politics, Hoffman presents readers with a subtle, moving evocation of the human realities of the Palestinian experience, rooted in land and memory.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Veering between biography, history, journalism and memoir, this painstakingly researched work is a human-scale picture of the . . . under-reported history of the Palestinians in Israel as well as an accessible introduction to their poetry. . . . Hoffman's book is unpretentious, principled and . . . charming."—The Economist

“[Hoffman] has learned the language, prowled civilian and military archives, walked the ground and interviewed countless individuals, probing their memories of cataclysmic events occurring more than a half-century ago. The result is not just a biography of a remarkable man, but a focused history of a region…. A lovingly researched, well-rendered portrait.”—Kirkus Reviews

"Taha Muhammad Ali's . . . poems show the power of beauty in difficult times in addition to the vivid imagination, humor, and honesty of a storyteller. Biographer, essayist, and literary critic Hoffman masterfully captures the life and work of this highly original poet. An exceptional introduction to a literary world that has, until now, been little known to English-language readers, this is highly recommended for all libraries."—Library Journal

"Hoffman's lively, insightful, artistically contextualized portrait of a great and accessible poet provides a corrective perspective on Palestinian culture and offers new evidence of literature's transcendent power."—Booklist, starred review

"Beautifully written. . . . In tracing [Muhammad Ali's] life . . . Hoffman manages to illuminate the experience of an entire people. She is scrupulously even-handed. . . . [This] is not only the biography of a remarkable man; it is an act of reclamation against the erosions of memory."—Eric Ormsby, Times Literary Supplement

"Adina Hoffman's portrait of Taha Muhammad Ali brings to life character after character, each one viewed with the author's singular humanity. The poet himself is a figure of great originality and integrity, and his life becomes a mirror of a world which we have glimpsed, until now, largely in broken fragments.  I hope this landmark book will be widely, and carefully, read."—W.S. Merwin 

"From Adina Hoffman's extraordinary book, I have not only learned about the life of that wise, sweet, cunning, superbly gifted and totally original Palestinian poet, Taha Muhammad Ali, but I have learned—more than ever before—about Jewish and Arab history in Palestine. The book is heartbreaking, riveting, and beautifully written. Moreover it's one of a kind, courageous, and deeply honest."—Gerald Stern, National Book Award–winner for This Time: New and Selected Poems

"Adina Hoffman’s writing is historical magic. She relates world-scale political history on a human scale, so that the ‘Israeli-Palestinian’ conflict is rendered, with clarity and fairness, the story of one family, one village, one exodus, one return. At the end of the day, the meaning of this history is explored and contemplated in the ways a great novel achieves that kind of contemplation. A series of brilliantly told and searing stories, this is at once a page-turner and a book to be savored."—María Rosa Menocal, author of The Ornament of the World

"Reading Adina Hoffman's remarkable book we are consoled that, in the face of terrible brutalities and sufferings, the enduring power of poetry might restore in words—and celebrate—a measure of what has been lost in reality."—Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran

"Adina Hoffman has given us a superbly composed meditation upon memory, truth, and conflict in the Middle East.  The texture of her prose, the improbable transformations of key characters, and above all their human depth and complexity, contribute to a luminous portrait of the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali and of his world.  I would place My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness among the five 'must read' books on the Israel-Palestine tragedy."—Michael Sells, John Henry Barrows Professor of Islamic History and Literature in the Divinity School, The University of Chicago

"There is never a bad time for compassion. But could there possibly be a better time than now? Adina Hoffman's incredibly well-researched, thoughtful, wise biography of the fascinating Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali might be the kind of project that serves as model for all that might save a region. Someone paying deep and loving attention to someone else—someone listening, not only to his words, but to the details and context of his whole life and the experience of his people. This book is a profoundly humane and tender experience, and should not be missed by anyone who cares about a better future and respect for the past."—Naomi Shihab Nye, author of You and Yours

"Thanks to Adina Hoffman's biography, readers are now better able to appreciate [Taha Muhammad Ali's] struggle to create literature in circumstances that might otherwise yield only despair."—Scott McLemee, Barnes & Noble Review

‘A beautiful and insightful biography.’ — Deborah Smith, Jewish Renaissance

"This complex, subtle and paradoxically triumphant biography of the poet Taha Muhammad is that rare treasure, an act of literary discovery that is also an act of political resistance."—Tom D'Evelyn, The Providence Journal

“Author Hoffman has done an admirable job of assembling this life story while it can still be told in the first person.”--Saudi Aramco World

‘Adina Hoffman’s biography of the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammed Ali is a triumph of sympathetic imagination, dogged research impassioned writing. More than the story of one man’s life, it brings to light entire strata of historical and cultural experience that have been neglected or purposefully covered over.’ — Robyn Creswell, The National

"In telling the story of Taha Muhammad Ali, Adina Hoffman captures with remarkable sensitivity the sadness, hilarity, mysteries, absurdities, and absences that have made up the life of an extracanonical Palestinian poet. . . . Hoffman's profound identification with Taha reaches to the book's bones. . . . Hoffman's knack for details is astonishing. . . . Hoffman's work is a unique addition to the chronicles of Palestinian ironies in the modern era." —Khaled Furani, Journal of Palestine Studies

'A remarkable book on the life and times of Palestinian poet Taha Muhammed Ali…. A triumph of personal empathy and historical insight, and a beacon for anyone who knows that more joins than separates us' — Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

"Informative, captivating and fast-moving, this first biography of the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali (1933- ) is a true delight to read."—Greta Aart, Cerise Press

Selected by the Editors of the Barnes & Noble Review as one of the Best Books of 2009.

Selected as one of five "Favorite Books of the Year," Tom D'Evelyn, Providence Journal

Winner of the 2010 Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize

Winner of the 2013 Windham Campbell Prizes administered by the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University.

Winner, Certificate of Merit in the 2012 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Award for Excellence in Historical Sound Research in Classical Music.
ISBN: 9780300141504
Publication Date: April 2, 2009
464 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
65 b/w illus.
Ben Hecht

Fighting Words, Moving Pictures

Adina Hoffman

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