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What is it?
Jebel Marra is a single author collection by Manchester-based British-Canadian writer Michelle Green. Michelle is not only a writer, but a spoken word artist, who has appeared at numerous festivals and live events across the UK and beyond, performing solo and in collaboration with writers, musicians and visual/digital artists. Michelle has written for Literature Across Frontiers, Short Fiction Journal, and a number of short story and poetry anthologies and her work was featured on BBC Radio 4’s Border Crossing – a series of paired stories from international and British authors. Her critically acclaimed collection of short fiction, Jebel Marra, is based on her own experience as an aid worker in Darfur, creating a book that is not just your standard war story.
When war breaks out, a swarm of other industries quickly surround the battlefield; aid agencies, NGOs, international media corporations, mercenaries and private investors… all descend on the conflict like a second wave of invaders. Never was this more so than in 2004 when Darfur, in western Sudan, erupted into civil war. Accusations of government-sponsored ethnic cleansing and what the UN described as ‘the world’s worst humanitarian crisis’ combined to put this previously unheard-of region under the world’s spotlight. Yet, for all the influx of foreign agencies and outside interest, very little was (and still is) known about the causes of this conflict. Here, Michelle Green – a former aid worker in Darfur – re-tells the story of the war from 15 different perspectives, capturing by turns the brutal indifference of the government war machine, the terrible scars inflicted on individuals caught in its path, and the complex melting pot of experiences that constitutes any relief effort. Though fictional, these stories reach beyond the myths so often used to simplify this crisis and offer moving, first-hand insights into a tragedy that – like so many others – disappeared from our headlines all too quickly.
Why this book and who should you give it to?
Kate Pullinger said of the collection:
‘At a time when we claim we suffer from ‘compassion fatigue’ and we hope that clicking ‘yes’ on an online petition will effect actual change, Michelle Green’s stories about aid workers and refugees and war-torn, far-away places remind us that, yes, this matters, and yes, it is urgent, and yes, these stories are here to help us remember what it all means.’
Given the current political climate, the anti-refugee rhetoric in the media, and the tragedies undergoing places like Mosul and Aleppo today, these comments and Michelle’s portrayal of a war-torn nation will surely strike a chord with many readers who want to be aware, and help how they can.We recommend this book to anyone who still holds on to hope for actual and effective change, but also as a Christmas gift to anyone who might be inclined to disagree with Pullinger’s statement. You might just change their mind.
An extract from the story ‘In Zero Gravity’, taken from Jebel Marra:
The tram jolts as it pulls up to Kvatrić. In her pocket, she turns a small ball of tinfoil over and over. There’s the flower stall he likes, the expensive one. Rare stalks and blooms are arranged in towers like the future of the 1920s – Metropolis in Petals. She’d need a loan to buy one of those. They hold her eye, orange and white, electric green and pink, and blood red tips of the bird-like flowers to the side. He has been away for over a year now. The messages are shorter, full of conviction. The world needs to see this, he writes, they need to know. I have never felt more certain of my work and its necessity. He attaches photos of places that look like they are made of sand, buildings the colour of the earth, bicycles wound with silk bouquets. The worse, the ones for the reports, she does not see. He doesn’t want to upset her. Instead, she gets the holiday snaps. In one, his face is in the corner of the frame, grinning into the sun, and behind him the horizon stretches out like a paper cut, perfectly straight. Something about that bothers her, looking at his still image with all that space behind him.