A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy
Named a Best Book of the Year by The New Yorker, The Economist, Time, The New Republic, and the Financial Times.
Immersive and gripping, an intimate story of a deadly accident outside Jerusalem that unravels a tangle of lives, loves, enmities, and histories over the course of one revealing, heartbreaking day.
Five-year-old Milad Salama is excited for a school trip to a theme park on the outskirts of Jerusalem. On the way, his bus collides with a semitrailer. His father, Abed, gets word of the crash and rushes to the site. The scene is chaos—the children have been taken to different hospitals in Jerusalem and the West Bank; some are missing, others cannot be identified. Abed sets off on an odyssey to learn Milad’s fate. It is every parent’s worst nightmare, but for Abed it is compounded by the maze of physical, emotional, and bureaucratic obstacles he must navigate because he is Palestinian. He is on the wrong side of the separation wall, holds the wrong ID to pass the military checkpoints, and has the wrong papers to enter the city of Jerusalem. Abed’s quest to find Milad is interwoven with the stories of a cast of Jewish and Palestinian characters whose lives and histories unexpectedly converge.
In A Day in the Life of Abed Salama, Nathan Thrall—hailed for his “severe allergy to conventional wisdom” (Time)—offers an indelibly human portrait of the struggle over Israel/Palestine and a new understanding of the tragic history and reality of one of the most contested places on earth.
Praise for A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy
"Thrall is one of the few writers who can combine vivid storytelling with in-depth analysis of the occupation ... his expertise allows him to shuttle nimbly between the viewpoints of frantic families and Palestinian leaders as well as Israeli officials and nearby settlers."
—The New York Times, named a Book Review Editors’ Choice
"A vital, important book."
—Ilana Masad, The Washington Post
"A powerful evocation of a two-tiered society that treats children as potential combatants."
—The New Yorker, named one of the 12 Best Nonfiction Books of 2023
—Imogen Dewey, The Guardian
"Thrall humanizes the consequences of systemic decay."
—The Los Angeles Times
"I know of no other writing on Israel and Palestine that reaches this depth of perception and understanding... One could read the book as a précis of modern Palestinian history embedded in the personal memories of many individuals, each of them drawn in stark, telling detail. To get to know them even a little is a rare gift, far more useful than the many standard, distanced histories of Palestine."
—David Shulman, New York Review of Books
"If it's hard to make people care about someone they've never met, it's even harder when that someone is behind a wall. But in A Day in the Life of Abed Salama, the journalist Nathan Thrall makes a virtue of that. The book reports a profoundly difficult story ... made more difficult by where it occurs: On the Palestinian side of Israel's separation barrier... [Thrall] manages to find drama in the most boring thing the Israelis do—which is bend the situation to their will through administration."
—Time, named one of the top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2023
“Thrall captures both the universality and the specificity of the experiences of Palestinians living under Israeli Occupation ... the book builds a relentless case that this crash and the ensuing trauma must be remembered. It was all so predictable—and could easily happen again.”
—The Economist, named a best book of 2023
"A quietly heartbreaking chronicle.... At any time, this scrupulous, salutary work would strike readers hard. Just now, it arrives in a cultural landscape shredded by assumptions that sympathy and understanding run only down a single route.... Not a word of A Day in the Life of Abed Salama encourages one-eyed compassion or selective truth-telling."
—Financial Times, named a best book of 2023
"[Nathan Thrall] brings the reader as close to this reality as can possibly be done with words. Through the painstaking accumulation of detail after detail he enables the reader who has never been to Palestine to experience life under Israeli occupation"
—Ahdaf Soueif, Times Literary Supplement
"Could not recommend more strongly."
"Thrall’s powerful and moving portrayal … of life under Israeli occupation is both a painful reminder of the costs of conflict and, in its insistence on the humanity of its protagonists, both Israeli and Palestinian, a glimmer of hope."
—Lisa Anderson, Foreign Affairs
"Magnificent ... a piercingly forensic account ... The book does what all good stories should do—it unfolds both minutely and epically at the same time. It does not moralize, and yet it does not shirk its responsibility to knock our sense of comfortable balance all to hell."
—Colum McCann, The Irish Times, named a best book of 2023
"A Day in the Life of Abed Salama reminded me that the best reporting brings human stories to inhuman systems. I hope many will read it."
—Madeleine Schwartz, The Millions, named a best book of 2023
"Thrall offers a unique window onto the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in this captivating profile of Abed Salama, a Palestinian phone company worker and political activist, on the day when his five-year-old son, Milad, was ... in a traffic accident near Jerusalem ... It's a heart-wrenching portrait of an unequal society."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Riveting... An eye-opening and empathetic analysis of a profoundly personal tragedy."
—Library Journal (starred review)
“Thrall’s taut, journalistic account of Abed Salama’s daylong search to discover what has become of his son is an agonizing, infuriating, heartbreaking indictment of Israel’s occupation. …An unforgettable and devastating symphony of pain and outrage and a demand for responsibility.”
—Booklist (starred review), named a best book of 2023
"Like J. Anthony Lukas’s Common Ground or Javier Cercas’s Anatomy of a Moment, A Day in the Life of Abed Salama is digressive narrative nonfiction as a major piece of political art."
—Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Literary Hub
"Propulsive ... a kaleidoscope of the aftermath of a tragedy, told from different viewpoints, with multiple lives coming together, and the tragedy made even more difficult because of obstacles Abed and others face because they are Palestinian. This is an immersive story of an event, with its aftershocks reverberating for years."
—Jack McCordick, The New Republic, named a best book of 2023
"A very personal and specific story of Palestinian life ... humanizing the struggle for freedom"
—Traci Thomas, SheReads, named a best book of 2023
"A masterpiece ... an extraordinary achievement ... Day in the Life of Abed Salama is a challenge to ... anyone who does not understand how awful Israel’s occupation truly is. If they read it, and if they are honest, they will change."
"Shows with devastating power ... the way that politics seeps into every aspect of the lives of those in Palestine. At a time when facts have become weapons in this seemingly endless conflict, this is a book that speaks with truth of ordinary lives trapped in the jaws of history."
—The Observer (UK)
"[This] is a book that is difficult to put down and which even a close follower of developments in Israel-Palestine can learn from. Walking in the shoes of Abed Salama, the experience of what many describe as a one-state reality truly comes to life in ways that are far more convincing than any geographic or policy analysis."
"Extensive and intimate"
—The Forward, named a best Jewish book of 2023
"A book that is … by turns deeply affecting and, in its concluding chapters, as tense as a thriller.… Such storytelling is in itself a radical act, for it insists on humanising those who are so often discussed – especially at times of intense violence, like now – solely as constituent parts of a category: "Palestinians." … Thrall’s achievement is to make us see [the occupation]– and feel its injustice – afresh."
—Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian
"As war rages in Gaza, this book offers a moving testimony of the more mundane forms of violence that define life between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea."
—Connor Echols, Responsible Statecraft, named one of the best foreign policy books of 2023
"Heartwrenching... with rare political insight."
—Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens
"Nathan Thrall’s book made me walk a lot. I found myself pacing around between chapters, paragraphs and sometimes even sentences just in order to be able to absorb the brutality, the pathos, the steely tenderness, and the sheer spectacle of the cunning and complex ways in which a state can hammer down a people and yet earn the applause and adulation of the civilized world for its actions.”
—Arundhati Roy, Booker Prizewinning author of My Seditious Heart
“It is hard to think of another book that gives such a poignant, deeply human face to the ongoing tragedy of Palestine. Thrall’s evocation of both a terrible crisis and the daily humiliations of life under occupation is nothing short of heartbreaking.”
—Adam Hochschild, National Book Award finalist and author of American Midnight
“This brilliant and heartbreaking book is a masterpiece. It reads like a novel, yet is all sadly true. I finished it in tears."
—James Rebanks, New York Times bestselling author of Pastoral Song
"In this luminous story of Palestinians striving to live under Israeli rule, there is much cruelty. But there is also great love—of parents for their children, of lovers for their beloved, and of people for their home. This book is transformative."
—André Aciman, author of Out of Egypt and Call Me By Your Name
"A brilliant and heart-wrenching book that captures the daily tragedy of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation better than any other I have read. An outstanding achievement and a must read."
—Eugene Rogan, author of The Fall of the Ottomans
"Propels the reader across a geography that is partitioned behind walls and into enclaves, revealing in visceral, human detail what Israeli subjugation means, and how it shapes the most intimate corners of the Palestinian experience. With empathy and grace, Thrall transforms this incomprehensible, avoidable loss into an ode to a father's love."
—Tareq Baconi, author of Containing Hamas
"This impressive book shows us how everything in these Palestinians’ daily lives—from the mundane to the catastrophic—has been controlled, contained, and shaped under Israeli rule. Amid this struggle to survive, Nathan Thrall documents the best and worst of humanity: pride, bravery, love, stupidity, callousness and cruelty."
—Sally Hayden, author of The Fourth Time We Drowned
“A towering achievement. I've not read anything like it. Thrall takes the bureaucracy and infrastructure of apartheid and uses them to tell a painfully emotional, personal story.”
—Omar Robert Hamilton, author of The City Always Wins