Salem, Salwa 1940-1992

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Salem, Salwa 1940-1992


Born 1940, in Kafr Zib^d, Palestine; died of cancer, 1992, in Parma, Italy; married; husband's name Muhammad. Education: Attended University of Damascus.


Activist and educator. Taught school in Kuwait.


(With Laura Maritano) The Wind in My Hair (memoir), translated by Yvonne Freccero, Interlink Books (Northampton, MA), 2007.


Born in Palestine, Salwa Salem fled her childhood home after the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 and began a life of nomadic exile, journeying to Kuwait and Austria before settling in Italy. In her posthumously published memoir The Wind in My Hair, dictated while she was dying of cancer, Salem "skillfully interweaves a history of the Palestinian longing for nationhood and a personal story of a courageous Arab woman activist," observed Library Journal contributor Elizabeth R. Hayford.

Salem grew up in a prosperous family in Jaffa, but when the violence started her father relocated the family to Nablus, where they lived under Jordanian rule. "Salem became very politically active as a schoolgirl, officially joining the outlawed Ba'ath party at the age of 15," noted Maureen Clare Murphy on the Electronic Intifada Web site. "Influenced by her intellectual and politically savvy brother Adnan, Salem devoured every book she had access to, and organized subversive actions with her fellow students against the Jordanian government authorities." She later traveled to Kuwait where she worked as a teacher and met her husband, Muhammad, with whom she moved to Vienna.

The Six-Day War of 1967, during which Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, and West Bank, proved devastating to the Palestinians. Discussing the lasting effects of that war in The Wind in My Hair, Salem writes: "As for us, we had so many dreams, so many words and ideologies. We believed in socialism and in pan-Arabism. Today everything is different." Salem and her family moved to Parma, Italy, in part to escape the racism they faced in Austria. Murphy stated that although "Salem writes of feeling more content while in Italy, she was still disturbed by the repressive measures imposed on her family back in Nablus, where she could travel only with an Israeli-issued visitor's permit. Additionally, she writes of her regret that her children did not know of the warm extended family that she so enjoyed as a child."

The Wind in My Hair received strong reviews. A critic in Kirkus Reviews deemed the work "evocative and discomforting" and remarked that "much of the prose is direct, spare and stirring in its simplicity," and Murphy noted that the author's experiences "give a window into that of a generation of Palestinians born into dispossession."



Salem, Salwa, and Laura Maritano, The Wind in My Hair, translated by Yvonne Freccero, Interlink Books (Northampton, MA), 2007.


Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2004, review of The Wind in My Hair, p. 1004.

Library Journal, February 15, 2007, Elizabeth R. Hayford, review of The Wind in My Hair, p. 127.

Reference & Research Book News, February, 2007, review of The Wind in My Hair.


Electronic Intifada, (February 18, 2007), Maureen Clare Murphy, "Two Palestinian Women Recall Their Lives in Exile," review of The Wind in My Hair.