Author exposes beauty of Palestine in new book

Written by Sophie M. Lavoie on January 31, 2019

Author Marcello Di Cintio answers questions on his book, Pay No Heed to the Rockets. Photo by Sophie M. Lavoie.

Gaza is more than a place of “despairing gray,” says author Marcello Di Cintio, despite being deemed possibly “uninhabitable” starting in 2020, according to a UN Report.

Di Cintio presented his latest book at the Alumni Memorial Hall at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton on Jan. 30, 2019.

Based in Calgary, Di Cintio has written on various topics. His Walls: Travels Along the Barricades, published with Goose Lane in 2012, examined the growth of the wall phenomenon around the world.

While a writer-in-residence in Palestine, Di Cintio discovered that “there is more to Palestine than the cruel accounting of bombings and death. (…) an enduring and unsolvable political problem, (…) a place of despairing gray,” as he specifies in his book.

At the Fredericton event, Di Cintio read from his latest book, Pay No Heed To The Rockets (2018). The author visited the country for the first time in 1999 when he spent three months there. He returned to the occupied territories in 2015 and 2016 to talk to Palestinian writers and artists who “bare the beauty of a place mostly known for its opposites.”

During his presentation, Di Cintio confessed that he “stole” a line for his book’s title from a text by Mahmoud Darwish, a prominent Palestinian poet, who passed away in 2008. For Di Cintio, this line, which comes after a lengthy recipe for making the perfect cup of coffee, means “we can do the thing that makes us happy” despite being surrounded by  “everything the [Israeli] occupation represents.” 

For Di Cintio, it was -and is- often literally impossible to “ignore the rockets” and Darwish was clearly being ironic; “preparing for inevitable conflict is a much a part of being Palestinian” as the typical dishes made by two of Di Cintio’s generous hosts in Gaza.

Among the artists and writers he met, one of the poets that has stayed with Di Cintio is Mohammed el-Kurd who was 17 when he interviewed him. Di Cintio says Mohammed’s poems challenge masculine ideals. He is now studying in the U.S. Di Cintio was also struck by a religious young Palestinian woman, Najlaa Attallah who, surprisingly, wrote “highly sexualized and erotic texts.”

When asked what advice he would give journalists covering Palestine, he said they should “take the time to talk to regular people” about their stories. For him, activists, politicians and other dignitaries don’t tell the whole story.

For Di Cintio, “no one visiting [Palestine] could ever come out without sympathy” for Palestinians’ plight. Generalizations and statistics “gloss over” the realities of Palestinian citizens and Di Cintio was able to speak about the people in his book to tell “a human story (…) what things were really like.” According to Di Cintio, after taking the time to visit, it is impossible not to be “pulled into” the political situation but he’s “not a war journalist, that’s not his beat.”

Asked if he has future projects in mind, Di Cintio admitted his fascination with this place: “I’ll end up returning [to Palestine] and writing about something else.”

Marcello Di Cintio’s book tour continues with stops in Saint John on Jan. 31, St. John’s on Feb 2 and Halifax on Feb 14.

Read an excerpt from Pay No Heed to the Rockets here.

Sophie M. Lavoie, an editorial board of the NB Media Co-op, publishes on arts and culture for the Co-op.

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