Biographer seeks to preserve memories of Palestinians
Rushdieh Hudeib, one of the Palestinian profiles included in Cristina L’Homme’s book on Palestinian memories. (Cristina L’Homme)
2017/04/16 Issue: 102 Page: 23
The Arab Weekly
Amman - Franco-Chilean biographer Cristina L’Homme is on a mission to collect memories of elderly Palestinians and publish their narratives to share their values, spirit, feelings, knowledge and anecdotes.
“When I arrived in Jordan, I began to realise that knowing the Palestinian story is crucial for understanding the whole region,” L’Homme said. “However, my interest grew as I began to hear the stories of those who can speak about the last seven decades.”
L’Homme said she wanted to share the memories of the elderly with other people, especially young Palestinians in the diaspora.
“When people talk about their own experiences, like suffering from oppression or losing everything and still being able to resist and exist, then their stories convey something special to the reader and in this case the young generation,” she said.
“Their life testimonies are a treasure that is disappearing as they die. When they disappear, we lose first-hand accounts. That is why I thought it is important to collect these testimonies of Palestinians inside and outside Palestine, including those who are living today in South America.”
The book is to be published in 2018 to mark the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian exodus known as nakba, which means “disaster”, upon the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. It will appear first in Spanish and French in Chile and France and later in English.
“Our target audience is Spanish-, French- and English-speaking people worldwide,” L’Homme said. “We are also targeting younger Palestinian generations. For example, in Chile there are more than 350,000 Chileans of Palestinian origin who are distanced from their roots and are searching for them.”
L’Homme said Palestine and the story of the Palestinians are unique to the region and the world. She has completed 25 profiles for the book.
“We have selected people who come from various socio-economic and religious backgrounds to have a better understanding of the diverse make-up of Palestinian society,” she said.
“We started with a shepherd in Palestine and then, step by step, we selected people to write about based on their specific profiles and diverse geographical location: A farmer and a lawyer, a doctor and a priest, some in [the Palestinian territories], others outside.”
Many challenges faced the biographer, including the precise transmission of the recorded testimonies in writing and illustrations.
“The main challenge is to touch, with the right words and images, those who are far away and do not necessarily know what these elders have been through in their lives,” she said.
“The importance of preserving the Palestinians’ memories in a book is that it can be a tool for transmitting the values of a people to younger generations who are detached from their roots. By knowing their origins, people can better define their identity, build themselves and look forward to their future.”
L’Homme has been writing biographies for ten years and the choice of subjects for her books can be summed by the word “noteworthy”.
“I wrote about the wives of copper miners trapped in a mine in Chile in 2010. I also wrote the story of a young Afro-French man who became a taekwondo champion and a famous hip-hop leader. This coming month another of my books will be published, and it is about a Mexican- French couple that was kidnapped in Colombia,” she said.
The Mapuche — “people of the earth” as it literally means — are natives of Chile who found a place in L’Homme’s publications.
“Recently, I had the opportunity to work in my home country, Chile, on a book about Mapuche elders who are strongly attached to their land and culture,” she said. “The book is a compilation of life narratives. Stéphane Herbert, my partner on the project, took 200 beautiful photographs portraying people’s daily lives in rural Araucanía. Our aim was to reflect the dignity of the Mapuche people,” she said.
L’Homme said technology is a good tool but she favours old-fashion paper.
“Nowadays, because of digital technology, we are exposed to a great deal of information and our thinking can lack focus,” she said. “I believe that books still have an impact on readers, because a book concentrates on a specific knowledge that fosters education.”