Beautifully written and almost poetic in the sparseness of the prose, this is a wonderful story about friendship and family set in the occupied territories of Palestine. Our heroine known as Butterfly lives with her brothers and sisters in a close loving family. Her father’s job is to tend the olive groves in an Israeli settlement, a fact Butterfly begins to question as she grows more aware of the political situation. She chooses the nickname Butterfly to represent freedom of thought and what she hopes to become.
Butterfly writes down all the questions she wants to know every time she thinks of one and stores them in a locked treasure chest hidden under the tiles inviting the reader to ponder her questions too. The chest is kept out of reach of her younger sister Tala who loves nothing better than to give away secrets. Butterfly’s Questions and dreams for the future often threaten to overwhelm her: questions such as why does her older sister Zaynab often cry at night and why does her aunt have to marry her uncle’s brother after her husband was martyred? She does find out that the man Zaynab loves is in prison but she must marry a cousin instead. On visiting Jordan after the Zaynab’s wedding Butterfly sees the deprivation first hand as children in Jordan enjoy freedoms denied to the Palestinians who are made to carry ID cards at all times.
Butterfly wrestles with typical teenage worries too with her friends Mays and Haya giving her conflicting opinions and advice; Mays is more of a revolutionary but Haya cares more about make-up and grooming. Butterfly has a secret crush on student Nizar and often waits for him to pass her window on his way home but finds to her horror that her friend Mays likes him too.
This is a thoughtful and perceptive coming of age tale – it slightness belies its depth and intensity as we follow Butterfly’s hopes and dreams as she grows in confidence and wisdom. The story is a gentle one but with touches of wry humour revealing without any rancour the injustices faced by ordinary people living under occupation.