Sara Haddad – The Sunbird

Independently published, Australia, 2024
Cover design and illustration by Tam Morris

This exquisite work contains both an allegorical story about Nabila Yasmeen, who as a girl experienced the horrors of the Nakba in Palestine, and a brief factual history of Palestine. We meet Nabila as a young child in Palestine in 1947 and also as an older woman in Australia in 2023.

Barbie talks to Sara Haddad about The Sunbird

In this gently told tale, Nabila’s greatest desire is for learning. She is desperate to start school and hangs outside the school building for the beginning of lessons, leaving only when shooed off by the benign teacher. In June 1948, having just learnt how to write her name, she feels the first of the bombs.

In the present-day story, Nabila cares for her garden and for the birds and animals in the bush around her Australian home. She catches the bus into the city to join in the weekly demonstrations for Palestine, finding each time she goes that public sentiment has shifted just a little.

The Addendum, with its dates and facts, serves to put recorded context to the human story of Nabila. Or conversely, the story about one individual and the impact of the Nakba and all the other violence committed over the decades, serves to personalise the facts and figures, to make them into grass roots history and real experience. Here is a person who has lived these things, who carries the trauma and loss into the present day.

Beautifully crafted, this work is rich in symbolism. The little olive tree nurtured by Nabila stands in for the millions of trees torn out in Palestine, in turn for the culture and people displaced. The pine plantations speak of colonialism and the papering over of history. The sunbird is a symbol of both freedom and pain, shown as it is on the cover flying above the smoke of bombs. But still flying above. There’s hope in this rising above.

None of this is simplistic despite the clarity of the metaphors. The book is written with finesse and sensitivity, a novella length work which carries so much more weight than its 99 pages of text.

There is no raised voice in The Sunbird, merely a quiet and persistent request to learn the history and to respond to our fellows, person to person, to see the humanity in the ‘Palestine situation’ beyond the politics of power.

The book is described by Michelle de Kretser as ‘a resounding cry for justice and compassion for Palestine’ and I don’t think I can say it better. May we listen to the cry.

Thank you to Sara for my review copy and for speaking with me about this beautifully written story and the history that it tells.