A Soldier Dreams of White Lilies: Background information when reading Sadness Is a White Bird

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Sadness Is a White Bird

by Moriel Rothman-Zecher

Sadness Is a White Bird by Moriel Rothman-Zecher X
Sadness Is a White Bird by Moriel Rothman-Zecher
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2018, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2019, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Dean Muscat
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About this Book

A Soldier Dreams of White Lilies

This article relates to Sadness Is a White Bird

Print Review

Sadness is a White Bird's cryptic title is actually a direct quotation from Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish's 1967 poem, "A Soldier Dreams of White Lilies," which forms part of his collection The End of Night.

Did you feel sad? I asked.
Cutting me off, he said, Mahmoud, my friend,
sadness is a white bird that does not come near a battlefield.
Soldiers commit a sin when they feel sad.

Indeed, much of Rothman-Zecher's novel takes inspiration from the imagery and themes within this seminal poem that stages a dialogue between an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian narrator who shares the poet's name, Mahmoud.

Mahmoud Darwish Mahmoud Darwish, who passed away in 2008 after complications from open-heart surgery, is widely regarded as one of the most popular Palestinian poets. He was especially known for how he used his art to draw attention to the Palestinian cause. Mahmoud's poems often evoke a sense of Palestinian national aspiration, and as such "White Lilies" is quite atypical in the poet's oeuvre as it shifts focus onto the enemy and gives insight into the Israeli opposition's mindset.

Throughout the poem, the narrator queries the soldier about nationalistic pride, and what it means to love and die for his country:

Homeland for him, he tells me, is to drink my mother's coffee,
to return at nightfall.
I asked him: and the land?
I don't know it, he said.
I don't feel it in my flesh and blood,

Increasingly, the soldier seems to come across as being disillusioned with war and longs for peace. The soldier is tired of bullets and the "fascist moment of triumph," instead he desires "white lilies, streets of song, a house of light," he needs "a child to cherish a day of laughter, not a weapon of war."

For some Israelis, this poem was deemed controversial as it can be construed as Darwish speaking in the name of Israelis and detracting from their geographical patriotism. However, setting aside all partisan allegiances, the poem is a heartfelt attempt to find empathy and understanding between two opposing sides.

Picture of Mahmoud Darwish from Champlain College

Article by Dean Muscat

This "beyond the book article" relates to Sadness Is a White Bird. It originally ran in February 2018 and has been updated for the February 2019 paperback edition.

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