Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: In The Presence of Absence (Mahmoud Darwish)

A truly incredible poetic memoir


Title: In The Presence of Absence (original title: في حضرة الغياب)
Author: Mahmoud Darwish (translator: Sinan Antoon)
Genre: Non-Fiction / Poetry / Memoir
First published: 2006 (in Arabic) / English translation: 2011
Edition: Paperback, published by Archipelago Books in 2020

By one of the most transcendent poets of this generation, a remarkable collection of prose poems that explores themes of love, pain, isolation, and connection. In this self-eulogy written in the final years of Mahmoud Darwish’s life, Palestine becomes a metaphor for the injustice and pain of our contemporary moment.


I read this beautifully written poetic memoir over the span of a few weeks. I did not want to rush it. I wanted to take in every word and to let them sink in.

I have never read anything quite like this before. The author wrote this remarkable second-person narrative, that is part poetic prose and part memoir. I have read one of his poetry books before, which I loved, but this was a different beast altogether.

The author touches on many memories and thoughts, on emotions and on the plight of the refugee and the displaced and exiled. It is a voice that is not heard enough. I started reading this book before the flare-up of the conflict between Israel and the Palestines, but in the past couple of weeks it has only become more poignant to me. The issues this Palestinian poet wrote about have still not been resolved and probably never will be. I will include a page in which he talks about his arrival in Gaza and how he felt whilst he was there.

I am not sure how I can express how I felt about this one. All I can say about this self-eulogy is that it touched me deeply. It is so beautifully written and the way he addresses himself throughout made it feel very personal and intimate. I really felt like if I was reading the innermost musings of his heart as he was pondering the end of his life.

An incredible piece of writing and I hope more people will read this, wherever they are in the world. It will enrich your life.

7 out of 7 stars

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