Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Enter Ghost

by Isabella Hammad

WINNER OF THE ASPEN WORDS LITERARY PRIZE AND THE ENCORE AWARD • Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, and the Gordon Bowker Volcano Prize • Finalist for the Chautauqua Prize • A New York Times and Washington Post Notable Book of the Year

A bold, evocative new novel from the Sue Kaufman, Betty Trask and Plimpton Prize Award winner Isabella Hammad that follows actress Sonia as she returns to Palestine and takes a role in a West Bank production of Hamlet

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 336
  • Publication Date April 09, 2024
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6330-1
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $18.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 336
  • Publication Date April 04, 2023
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6238-0
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $28.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date April 04, 2023
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6239-7
  • US List Price $28.00

“Assured and formidable.”—Wall Street Journal

After years away from her family’s homeland, and reeling from a disastrous love affair, actress Sonia Nasir returns to Haifa to visit her older sister Haneen. This is her first trip back since the second intifada and the deaths of their grandparents: while Haneen made a life here commuting to Tel Aviv to teach at the university, Sonia remained in London to focus on her acting career and now dissolute marriage. On her return, she finds her relationship to Palestine is fragile, both bone-deep and new.

At Haneen’s, Sonia meets the charismatic and candid Mariam, a local director, and finds herself roped into a production of Hamlet in the West Bank. Sonia is soon rehearsing Gertude’s lines in Classical Arabic and spending more time in Ramallah than Haifa, along with a dedicated group of men from all over historic Palestine who, in spite of competing egos and priorities, each want to bring Shakespeare to that side of the wall. As opening night draws closer it becomes clear just how many violent obstacles stand before a troupe of Palestinian actors. Amidst it all, the life Sonia once knew starts to give way to the daunting, exhilarating possibility of finding a new self in her ancestral home.

A stunning rendering of present-day Palestine, Enter Ghost is a story of diaspora, displacement, and the connection to be found in family and shared resistance. Timely, thoughtful, and passionate, Isabella Hammad’s highly anticipated second novel is an exquisite feat, an unforgettable story of artistry under occupation.

Tags Literary

Praise for Enter Ghost:

Shortlisted for the 2024 Women’s Prize for Fiction
Finalist for the Chautauqua Prize
Shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing
Longlisted for the Ondaatje Prize
A New York Times and Washington Post Notable Book of the Year
New York Times Editor’s Choice
A Best Book of the Year: Boston Globe, Vulture, Electric Literature, Sunday Times, Times (UK), and the Chicago Public Library

“Terrific… Enter Ghost though contemporary, is thoroughly infused with Palestine’s past — and thoroughly haunted by Sonia’s. Hammad, who is both a delicate writer and an exact one, intertwines the two, taking care to give Sonia as many personal ghosts as she does historical ones.… Indeed, the novel seems to argue, real growth and connection, both political and personal, cannot begin until everyone’s ghosts have emerged from hiding. Art is, if nothing else, a powerful tool for coaxing them out.”—New York Times Book Review

“[Hammad] is at once able to trace broad social and historical terrains without losing her grasp of particulars, giving a surgical finesse to her writing about the human personality. Her style is often labeled ‘exquisite.’ These skills put her in the company of other postcolonial literary novelists such as Ahdaf Soueif and Abraham Verghese.”—Washington Post

“Astonishing.”—Vulture, #2 Best Book of the Year

“Hammad is not only a talented novelist; she is also a rigorous researcher, and she paints an authentic picture of Palestinian life, whether it takes place inside Israel or in the West Bank . . . In Enter Ghost, Hammad navigates between the personal and the political in what has come to be her signally seamless manner. She moves across these borders often, almost as if they did not exist.”—Raja Shehadeh, The Nation

“Assured and formidable.”—Wall Street Journal

“Exploring themes of diaspora, displacement and the search for identity, Hammad constructs a world rich in texture and emotion. A poignant narrative of resilience and the quest for belonging, Enter Ghost is a dazzling story of self-discovery against the backdrop of displacement.”—Aspen Words Literary Prize jury

“An Arabic language production of ‘Hamlet’ in the West Bank is the stage for this clear-eyed and vivid book, in which estranged sisters, hot-headed men, a zealous director, and a cast of actors work together in spite of their internal and external challenges to make art despite political strife.”—Boston Globe, A Best Book of the Year

“The complexities, dangers, and haunting realities of contemporary Palestinian existence seep through the tightly-woven plot and beautifully moving prose of Enter Ghost.”—Electric Literature, A Best Novel of the Year

“An exquisite piece of storytelling that weaves history and politics and family with a profound meditation on the purpose of art. It’s nuanced, multilayered and gorgeously written and, as with all great novels, rewards multiple readings.”—Monica Ali, The Guardian

“Engrossing . . . A highly topical story about the complex connections to be found in art, politics and family life.”—Sunday Times, Book of the Year Pick

“There could hardly be a more urgent time to understand the inner lives of Palestinians, which are depicted with poignance and grace in Isabella Hammad’s novel Enter Ghost.”—Nathan Thrall, The Observer Book of the Year Pick

“Captivating . . . A deeply moving narrative that illuminates the lived realities of Palestinians in the West Bank, skillfully interweaving themes of resilience, the struggle for self-discovery, and the complex performance of identity in everyday life.”—Harper’s Bazaar

“Hammad’s prose is just as exquisite and wise as her main character.”—Bustle

“[Hammad is] a calm and vital storyteller, a writer of real rhythmic grace.”—Ali Smith, The Guardian

Enter Ghost brings to mind Mahmoud Darwish as well as Shakespeare . . . A stirring novel and a tribute to those Palestinians who have attempted, and attempt, to make art despite the forces ranged against them.”—Times Literary Supplement

“Can a work of art act upon the world? In a humanitarian and political crisis, what kind of contribution is a play? These questions rise gradually to the surface in the British Palestinian writer Isabella Hammad’s Enter Ghost . . . Hammad refracts her philosophical inquiry through an elegant assemblage of metatextual layers, filling her novel with plays within plays, works that comment directly on the uses of art.”—Jewish Currents

“Magnificent, deeply imagined… a thought-provoking, engrossing story about the connections to be found in art, politics and family life.”—The Times (UK)

Enter Ghost is a novel to savour rather than steam through — not least because it feels completely different to anything else being written right now in English, a heartfelt meditation on the relationship between art and politics. The story unfurls with a slow delicacy and Hammad sustains tension without resorting to cheap suspense… When you surrender to her writing, everything else falls away.”—Sunday Times (UK)

Enter Ghost takes you deep inside the protagonist’s experience while opening a wider window on to life for Palestinians and their exhausting day-to-day struggles. Hammad explores this setting with intelligence and a fine-grained specificity… A richly layered novel.”—The Guardian

Enter Ghost is a novel to savour rather than steam through—not least because it feels completely different to anything else being written right now in English, a heartfelt meditation on the relationship between art and politics. The story unfolds with slow delicacy and Hammad sustains tension without resorting to cheap suspense . . . What Hammad is asking of the reader is participation. When you surrender to her writing, everything else falls away.”—Johanna Thomas-Corr, Times (UK)

“A thorough and thoughtful exploration of the role of art in the political arena.”—Kirkus, starred review

“Hammad is a pretty flawless writer who, despite her harrowing and often intellectually complex subject matter, produces easily readable, human, generous work. Young adults and mature intellectual readers alike will get behind Sonia’s struggles with relationships, work, family and self-image, which are instantly recognisable and perfectly parsed.”—Times (UK)

“[A] soul-stirring and dramatic tale of a Palestinian family’s exile and reconciliation. . . . The layered text, rich in languages and literary references, dives deep into Sonia’s consciousness, illustrating her hopes for what art can accomplish. This deeply human work will stay with readers.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Hammad’s enthralling second novel expertly navigates tensions in present-day Arab-Israeli relations with rare literary grace and insight… Exquisitely illuminated by the author’s tender writing, Sonia’s experience of the daily tectonic strain between occupier and occupied, a ‘throwback to the intifada summers of [her] adolescence,’ leads to a new, deeper appreciation of her ancient heritage and her natural place in it.”—Shelf Awareness

“Hammad’s characters contend with displacement, ancestral home, authenticity, and the shimmering possibility of finding yourself in unlikely places. Sisterhood, soul-searching, and Shakespeare—what more could you ask for?”—Literary Hub, Most Anticipated Books of 2023

“A lyrical meditation on Palestinian endurance, the role of theater as political protest, and the undeniable pull of home.”—Booklist

“Brilliant.”—Literary Review

Enter Ghost is a masterful, deeply convincing portrait of the all-too-real consequences of political theater—in both senses. A moving and important novel that presses upon the urgent question of how we ought to live in the midst of the rubble (and ongoing chaos) of political crisis.”—Namwali Serpell, author of The Furrows

“There is so much to be said about this book: beautifully written, poignant yet forceful, thoughtful and thought provoking, but above all challenging, challenging the reader to respond to the question facing the characters in the novel: how to live under occupation while preserving your dignity and humanity? Hammad answers this question through taking us into the hearts and minds of the characters in the novel and through that into the heart and mind of Palestine.”—Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran

“Outstanding. Next-level. Aesthetically, intellectually, emotionally and culturally satisfying. It is astonishing but true that Isabella Hammad is incapable of striking a false note. She immerses her heroine in volatile territory with the accuracy, compassion and coolness of a surgical knife sliding into a diseased body. The result is a stunning beauty — an eye-opening, uplifting novel that grants its vulnerable cast and their endeavors a rare and graceful dignity.”—Leila Aboulela, author of River Spirit

Praise for The Parisian:

“Dazzling… A deeply imagined historical novel with none of the usual cobwebs of the genre… The Parisian has an up-close immediacy and stylistic panache… that are all the more impressive coming from a London-born writer still in her 20s… Exquisite.”—New York Times Book Review

“Assured and captivating… Ms. Hammad’s acute evocation of place and personality ensures that we are never lost… This agile writer sets us firmly in place, fixing our attention on intersecting lives.”—Wall Street Journal

“Hammad is a natural storyteller… The Parisian teems with riches – love, war, betrayal and madness – and marks the arrival of a bright new talent.”—Guardian

“Stunning…a lush rendering of Palestinian life a century ago under the British mandate and a sumptuous epic about the enduring nature of love.”Vogue

“Epic… Because the book takes place in the complicated time and spaces that it does, the narrative grapples with sociopolitical concerns as well as it does the intimate, human ones. It sweeps you along.”—Vanity Fair

“Lavish, leisurely and immersive.”—Economist

“Hammad is a writer of startling talent.”―Observer

“Hammad uses the features of historical novels to cut through the familiar dichotomies of West and Near East, placing her protagonist in a rich web of families, political intrigues, and cultural exchanges, and subtly reconfiguring the literary tropes of ‘home’ and ‘abroad.’”—New Yorker

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for Enter Ghost by Isabella Hammad
Guide by Je Banach

1. Consider the ways in which the book creates a portrait of the Palestinian diaspora. How was the Nasir family affected by the two intifadas and by the seizure or destruction of their properties in 1948 or, otherwise, by their resistance during the Nakba? How does the author create a sense of the long-term, intergenerational effects of these events?

2. Haneen’s interactions with her student Yunes catalyze a crisis of conscience for Haneen. What questions do his accusations stir up in her? Do you think that there is any validity to his claims?

3. Hammad writes of Sonia, “I may not have known what I expected to feel returning to Haifa, but I suppose I hoped for some circling back to my younger self” (p. 52).  How does the Haifa Sonia returns to compare to the Haifa of her childhood? Do you think Sonia gets what she hoped for over the course of the book? Explain.

4. Haneen is technically not allowed to go visit her aunt and uncle in Ramallah because of her Israeli citizenship. Meanwhile, Mariam lives half the time in Ramallah so her son’s father can visit more often without having to get a permit to enter ’48. How does Sonia’s British passport impact her daily experience in Haifa and the West Bank, and her interpersonal relationships in each place?

5. Why does Sonia say that her uncle Jad was at least partly responsible for “the greater psychological allegiance of [their] family to the resistance” (p. 41) compared to other Palestinian families in Haifa? Uncle Jad became politicized later in life, while Sonia’s father Nabil was very politically active in his young adulthood. How did this shift in each brother’s political activity impact their relationship to each other, and their relationships to Sonia and Haneen?

6. How was each sister impacted by the experience of meeting Rashid, the hunger striker? Why do you think that Haneen withheld information about Rashid’s fate from Sonia, and why was Sonia so upset by this when she found out? What does this conflict reveal to us about Sonia and Haneen’s relationship?

7. How does Enter Ghost create a dialogue about art and resistance and, more specifically, theatre as political protest? What risks do Mariam and the actors take in order to put on the play and why do you think they are willing to take them?

8. In Chapter 5, Mariam and the actors discuss how Hamlet speaks to the Palestinian struggle. Sonia resists this interpretation—why do you think this is? Does the novel ultimately seem to answer the question of whether art can or should influence politics?

9. Why do you think the author made the choice to write specific sections of the novel in the format of a script? Why do you think Hammad chose the scenes she chose, and how do they compare or relate to other theatrical scenes in the book being acted out by Mariam’s company?

10. How does the author use this motif of the ghost to explore major themes of the book? How is ghost employed as symbol or metaphor to explore the past and various ideas of haunting or else being haunted? Who—or what—takes on the role of ghost in Hammad’s novel?

11. What causes the breakdown of familial relationships depicted in the book—in Sonia and Haneen’s extended family, and in Mariam’s family—and what seems to lead to family unity? While thinking about the recording that Jad made with her grandparents, Sonia muses: “Must every Palestinian story be a family story?” (p. 42). Does the novel ultimately answer her question?

12. Discuss the representation of mothers and motherhood throughout the book, from the hunger striker’s mother, to Mariam, to Sonia and Haneen’s own mother and grandmother. Do these women have anything in common? How does Sonia’s role as Gertrude to Wael’s Hamlet allow her to inhabit the role of motherhood?

13. How does Sonia’s childlessness, including the story of her miscarriage and abortion, offer a counterpoint that reveals both the burden on women to become mothers and the cultural treatment of women who do not have children? Why do you think Sonia chooses to share her story with Mariam? Were you surprised by Mariam’s reaction?

14. Hammad writes, “We were enacting a Palestinian cliché: coming to see the house the family had lost. Although, as Mariam pointed out, my case did not quite fit that mould” (p.185). What does the sale of Sonia’s grandparents’ house bring up for her?

15. Sonia acknowledges the necessity of journalism in getting news of their homeland out into the world but wonders if people pay more attention to stories about one or two people rather than thousands. Do you think this is true? What does the book ultimately suggest about bearing witness?

16. How would you characterize the relationship between Sonia and Haneen? When Sonia first arrives in Haifa she reflects that “My whole life I’d been aware of Haneen’s stronger moral compass; it made me afraid to confide in her until the very last moment, until I absolutely needed to” (p. 2). Where do you see this dynamic play out over the course of the book, and in what ways do you think the events of Sonia’s visit complicate that dynamic?

17. What moves Sonia from being “engaged with the political climate by default” (p. 40) to being more actively involved? Discuss the demonstration Sonia and Haneen go to in Jerusalem. In what ways is this form of political protest connected to their production of Hamlet, and in what ways does it feel different?

18. Hammad writes, “Our play needed the protests, but the protests did not need our play” (p. 274). Do you agree? Why do you think they carry on with the play nonetheless?

19. How do you think Sonia’s recent relationship with Harold impacts her relationship with Ibrahim?

20. Discuss the company’s final performance at the end of the novel. Why do you think they decided to undertake this particular performance despite all of the known risks? What final lines from Shakespeare conclude the book and why do you think the author made this choice?

Suggestions for Further Reading:

Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa
The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah
The Book of Gaza: A City in Short Fiction edited by Atef Abu Saif
The Book of Ramallah: A City in Short Fiction edited by Maya Abu Al-Hayat
City of a Thousand Gates by Rebecca Sacks
The Parisian by Isabella Hammad
The Question of Palestine by Edward W. Said
Radiant Fugitives by Nawaaz Ahmed
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
River Spirit by Leila Aboulela
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Savage Tongues by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi
We Are All Equally Far from Love by Adania Shibli
You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat