A&E Review: “The Drone Eats With Me”

By Sarah Hayes, A&E Editor

Imagine war; all of the images from the news, crumbling buildings and crying faces. Now imagine that you are in the middle of it, trying to live while dodging bombs and bullets, not sure if you will ever get a moment’s peace again. For 51 days, that was the regular routine of novelist Atef Abu Saif, author of five novels and numerous newspaper articles, as he lived through the 2014 Israeli offense against the Gaza Strip. His latest entry in the canon of Israeli-Palestinian conflict writing, “The Drone Eats With Me: A Gaza Diary,” is a personal and often fearless account of Saif’s life during wartime. If there were a bias in his writing which would not be evident in his more measured newspaper writing, it would be the bias of the maligned civilian who has found himself an unwilling target of powers beyond his control and comprehension.

“The Drone Eats With Me” is a day-to-day account of what Saif sees between July 7 and August 27 2014. Saif is not alone in his story; he has a wife, Hanna, and three children, Jaffa, Naeem, and Mostafa. There is also Saif’s father and stepmother, Hanna’s parents, the refugees who live in the nearby UNRWA school, Saif’s various friends and colleagues—and, of course, the drones, with their ever-present whirring and calculating. Saif is as much a witness to the horrors of war as he is a cipher for the reader’s growing sense of shock and disbelief as the fighting continues and more and more civilians are caught in the crossfire between political powers.

Saif’s diary is not an easy read. What he sees he reports with a journalist’s eye for detail and describes with a novelist’s feel for emotional resonance. The result is a series of bloody relentless snapshots of death and destruction, the victims often children. It might be seen as a political ploy for Saif to focus on the children, but it makes sense. He is, after all, a father of three; his youngest at the start of the novel is 18 months old. Being a parent colors Saif’s lens as much as being a child of Gaza and a novelist does. His complex, sometimes cynical, always questioning, view of events leads to a much more multifaceted take on the Gaza conflict than a less personal account could ever deliver.

It also cannot be denied that it is a political read. Everything about the Israeli-Palestinian divide is political; therefore any book published about that conflict is, by its basest nature, political. Pro-Israel readers might call it anti-Zionist; pro-Palestine readers might consider it a call for action. But Saif’s true narrative hangs somewhere in the middle of these two positions, as much as the people in his story do. While he does not hold back on his distrust and disbelief in the forces that have put this war into motion, in the end he is just a man trying to hold together his life one day at a time, all the while aware that he is ultimately powerless in these efforts. He addresses this when he writes, “You have no power to make the days different. You surrender to their sameness.” In Saif’s case, the sameness is the anachronistic-seeming sameness of living in a conflict zone, of every day checking the news to see what has been hit next.

This is not one of those feel-good self-discovery memoirs that have been so popular as of late. This is a memoir that can start a conversation, but that does not feel like its primary purpose. It shows a Gaza many Western watchers of news reports have seen night after night for years, but through the viewpoint of a single man, who can only see so much at a time but yet whose sight manages to encapsulate broad strokes of an entire region. What Saif brings to the Gazan literary canon is his singular unique experience, his powerful and honest writing, and a story that is not the first and sadly not the last of its kind.

This book was obtained as an uncorrected promotional galley through the Goodreads giveaway program and the publisher, Beacon Press. It was not given for any compensation on the part of “The Current” student newspaper or the reviewer.