Vanished is a fast-paced and compelling account of a young Palestinian boy in Gaza, Omar Ouda, grappling with the mysterious disappearance of his father and who throughout the course of the novel risks all to discover the truth. Set against a vivid backdrop of life in Gaza, it is an enthralling read that you will not want to put down.
Life in Gaza is captured carefully on every page as Omar continues his search for his father and is pushed along the way to make decisions that force him to choose between his family and his country. Lost, without a father and without a homeland, Omar desperately seeks comfort in the face of the unknown, knowing that neither his home nor his land is secure.
Set amidst the political upheaval that characterises Palestine's Gaza Strip, the fictional story is bound by historical events that have shaped Palestinian reality. The first and second intifada, the Oslo Accords and, later, Mubarak's downfall in Egypt's January 25th Revolution are all backdrops to the story within the novel, creating a tangible experience that the reader can relate to and understand without pushing it too far towards any form of political narrative. Here, Masoud manages to tread a fine line, allowing the reader to experience the clash of politics but steering the story away from dry political morals and instead focusing on the essence of what it means to be a Palestinian in Gaza; the struggle of simply trying to live amidst such turmoil.
Vanished is written in the form of a father's letter to his son, alternating between narrating the story to his child, and being the child at the same time. In this, a parallel between the present and the past is captured in an eerie reflection of events that seem destined to be repeated.
The childlike narrative at the beginning of the novel provides a stark contrast to the dark events occurring throughout, as the protagonist in the story faces a lot more than he bargained for when he begins his search for his father. As Omar is forced to mature before his time, the tale continues to turn darker yet maintains the child-like narrative, a poignant reminder that war knows no age and shows no mercy, even to children. Forced into a choice between empathy and morality, the reader is led into unchartered waters, torn between their sympathy for the boy and the knowledge of inevitable consequences that must follow his actions.
But the difficulties facing Palestinians do not end with childhood, not even when they leave the country, and are aptly captured in the novel when border officials treat Omar with contempt, throwing seemingly pointless rules at him created to make life difficult: "Good boy. Did we really have to do this to remind you that you are Palestinian? We are doing this for your own good, so you don't forget who you are and where you come from."
With the crux of those words echoing a sentiment that resonates beyond fiction, Vanished is a gripping tale that will hook you from the first chapter right to the end and take you along for an emotional roller-coaster ride, for no matter how much you think you can envision life in Palestine, this book shows you that you really can't.
Review by Noor Ahmad