Code Name: Butterfly is this year's Librarians and Archivists with Palestine's One Book Many Communities selection. It's about an adolescent girl coming of age under duress.
I didn't realize while reading the first-person narrated story that the protagonist has no name. Her friends and family members do, and the book isn't super stylized, so it was a surprise to realize that Butterfly is only identified by her self-chosen dreamy alias. In Butterfly's world, most dead people are martyrs, having fallen directly to Israeli murder, or as her younger sister describes their cat's passing.
'I didn't get too upset when Wadee died,' she declared. 'After all, he's a martyr, since Abu Mansur ran over him on his way to work for the occupiers.
Clearly Tala did get upset, but even children in Palestine are expected to see life in terms of war, oppression, and how with so many human deaths, suffering over a lost pet might be frivolous. Teenage (?) Butterfly has a large capacity for for complex thought, puzzling over the possible meanings of being described as "shrewd." Does shrewd mean resourceful or perceptive? And what to make of the negative connotations she intuits. This kid is a wordy.
She's also shrewd about her friendships, knowing that one of them, with her challenging friend Haya, won't last, but to enjoy it while it does.
Code Name, at 90 large-type pages, is a slip of a story, giving you a feel for Butterfly's world, and maybe how ephemeral it is, that it can change or be destroyed at any time, as happens with her father's job working for an Israeli settler.
The main conceit of the novel is Butterfly's "treasure chest" an imaginary holding for all of her unaskable and/or unanswerable questions--about occupation, love, family conflicts, and anything else.
So as not to 'make the occupiers happy', I'd have to make my treasure chest even bigger so that I could stuff all my questions into it. I even started thinking that I might be able to fit into it myself.
She fancies it to be like a cocoon from which one day a caterpillar will emerge. D'oh--I just got it. So the treasure chest is Palestine, and we don't know if Butterfly will ever be a butterfly or even a caterpillar. Her world silken fragility. It's a lovely story that wants to be read and revisited.