Book Review: Code Name: Butterfly by Ahlam Bsharat

The NCRCL Book Review Series is written by  NCRCL students. The aim of this series is to reflect the diverse research areas of NCRCL’s students and open a dialogue about particular texts, themes, and traditions. 

Review of Code Name: Butterfly (2016) by Ahlam Bsharat, translated from Arabic by Nancy Roberts

By Rebecca Sutton

code-name-butterfly-cover-2Butterfly, whose ‘real’ name is never revealed, lives in occupied Palestine. We join her on the journey towards adulthood as she deals with common adolescent concerns such as periods, first crushes, friendships, identity and sexuality. Alongside these, and through the eyes of Butterfly, writer Ahlam Bsharat offers frank descriptions of less universal concerns, of the violence and conflict occurring in Palestine’s occupied territories. With graphic descriptions of a “massacre”, the death of Uncle Saleh who was shot “over and over” and the mine that caused Bakr to lose both his legs, this is no ordinary adolescent journey, but a seemingly commonplace one for teenagers in Palestine. The novel is clearly pro-Palestinian in its ideology with vivid first-hand experience from Bsharat woven in throughout.

However, the conflict in Israel/Palestine is not the main focus; it is Butterfly’s inquiring mind, the questions she asks and the place where she stores these questions that occupy the main space of the narrative. Like many adolescents, she feels unable to talk to her parents, her siblings or friends, and so stores her questions and dreams in an imaginary treasure chest, which she declares almost full to bursting point. Herein lies the sadness: her questions are neither asked nor answered and her dreams are never shared, but by the end of the novel she realizes that grown-ups do not have all the answers and maybe more importantly, that they themselves have many unanswered questions of their own.

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Travels in Children’s Literature

We asked two of the current students of the MA in Children’s Literature, Judith Digby and Katharina Schaefers, to write about their experiences from the Travels in Children’s Literature module taught by Dr Alison Waller in Spring 2015.

As part of the MA in Children’s Literature, the Travel in Children’s Literature module aims to ‘examine the importance of travel and journeys in classic and contemporary children’s literature. Through texts such as the seminal Gulliver’s Travels and more recent books such as The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean, students will explore the role of literary children as explorers and adventurers, but also as refugees, migrants, tourists, and students of the world. From accounts of personal odysseys to stories of historical or fantastic voyages, the texts studied will raise questions about how children can move through geographical and imaginative space, as well as issues of nation, race and culture.’

To find out more about Travels in Children’s Literature or the MA/PGDip programme, read Judith and Katharina’s reviews below and consider attending the NCRCL Open Day or Virtual Open Day 2015.

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