Against the Loveless World

Sometimes a book’s title is enough to capture your attention and make you need to read it. Good covers can work the same magic. In the case of Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa, it was both that enraptured me before I’d even read its summary. It was one of my most anticipated new releases last summer, and though I bought it several months ago, I was waiting for the right time. Now that I’m focusing on Arab American Heritage Month, this was the first book I wanted to dive into.

Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa
GenreContemporary Fiction
SettingKuwait; Jordan; Palesite; Israel
Number of Pages384
Format I ReadHardcover
Original Publication DateAugust 25, 2020

Official Summary

A sweeping and lyrical novel that follows a young Palestinian refugee as she slowly becomes radicalized while searching for a better life for her family throughout the Middle East, for readers of international literary bestsellers including Washington BlackMy Sister, The Serial Killer, and Her Body and Other Parties.

As Nahr sits, locked away in solitary confinement, she spends her days reflecting on the dramatic events that landed her in prison in a country she barely knows. Born in Kuwait in the 70s to Palestinian refugees, she dreamed of falling in love with the perfect man, raising children, and possibly opening her own beauty salon. Instead, the man she thinks she loves jilts her after a brief marriage, her family teeters on the brink of poverty, she’s forced to prostitute herself, and the US invasion of Iraq makes her a refugee, as her parents had been. After trekking through another temporary home in Jordan, she lands in Palestine, where she finally makes a home, falls in love, and her destiny unfolds under Israeli occupation.


Against the Loveless World is a stunning book. It’s told from the perspective of Nahr while she’s in solitary confinement in “The Cube” in Israel. She reflects on her life and what ultimately landed her in this prison.

Nahr was an ordinary young woman in the 1980s, part of a family of Palestinian refugees living in Kuwait. She dreamed of marriage, but her first relationship wasn’t what she’d expected. Nahr may have been naive, but she was also strong and cool, and it wasn’t long until she got back on her feet. She went from working in a hair salon and doing manicures to the world of sex work. It’s an unexpected but interesting look at the power and wealth she was able to amass through sex work. However, it also put her into danger. Nahr has a nuanced relationship with her boss, Um Buraq, and this connection eventually leads to the next step in her journey: a move to Jordan.

Much of the novel is quite political, getting further into the details of the international conflicts as the story progresses. Nahr’s path leads her to Palestine—her homeland—and a man named Bilal, with whom she develops a close relationship and with whom she engages more deeply in fighting for political change. Although I often struggled with the scenes depicting guerrilla fighting and biotech warfare (I just don’t understand that, I guess), I did appreciate the chance to learn more about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. There is much I still don’t know, but this novel offered a profound perspective and unique experience through Nahr’s character.

Of course, her actions eventually lead to her capture and sentence to solitary confinement. Nahr’s time there sounds gruesome, especially mentally, and it’s interesting to see how this affects her view on her years of fighting for justice.

An additional theme that I loved here was the relationships Nahr has with her family. The difficult but nuanced mother-daughter relationship stands out, but I also liked Nahr’s intelligent, kind brother and her ornery, firecracker grandmother. Through it all, Nahr has people on her side who love her through even the toughest times. The novel’s ending is at times painful but ultimately hopeful.

Final Thoughts

Against the Loveless World is an engrossing story that is powerfully written, heart-felt, and informative of an important and ongoing conflict. It’s an incredible novel and I absolutely loved it. Susan Abulhawa has a few other novels that I plan to read soon, too, so stay tuned for those reviews!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

About the Author

Susan Abulhawa

Susan Abulhawa was born to refugees of the 1967 war when Israel captured what remained of Palestine, including Jerusalem. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her daughter. She is the founder and President of Playgrounds for Palestine, a children’s organization dedicated to upholding The Right to Play for Palestinian children. Her debut novel, Mornings in Jenin, was an international bestseller, translated into 30 languages. Her second novel, The Blue Between Sky and Water, was likewise a bestseller, translated into 20 languages. The reach of her books and volume of her readership have made abulhawa one of the most widely read Arab authors in the world. Her latest novel, Against the Loveless World is out August 25, 2020.

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