Silences come in all sizes—big, small, comfortable, painfully uncomfortable, short gaps in conversation, small sighs between breaths, and entire eras worth of quiet. Sayed Kashua’s Track Changes explores these silences, these unsaid words across two countries, two continents, two national identities, and two personal identities. The backdrop of the story changes, the geography of the narration changes—but the silence remains.
Track Changes is also a story about memories—altered memories, false memories, memories of trauma, childhood memories, stolen memories, and ultimately, the memories of an entire nation. It loops in and out of these many memories, coloring some in, leaving some grey.
The book feels strangely autobiographical in that, just like the narrator (and protagonist) of the story, Kashua was also born in Tira, Israel while identifying as Palestinian. Kashua moved to Illinois with his wife and three kids a couple of years ago, again mirroring his book’s protagonist. The narrator is named only once in the entirety of the book, and yet there is no denying the striking similarity even in his name—Saeed. Track Changes follows the life of Saeed, a journalist-turned memoirist as he travels between his past and present, his hometown in Israel and his home in Illinois. His relationship with his father, his marital discord, his disconnect with his children—they’re all linked to one word: Palestine. The story unfolds slowly, lazily, allowing the reader to linger in the moments that feel most human—the narrator’s fears, his sadness, his longing, and his loneliness.
The narrator is so alone that at some point, it begins to feel a little claustrophobic. We trace his solitude all through his life in Illinois, with a wife who will not so much as look at him, and three children who seem to have no real need for him. When he travels back to Israel to visit his ailing father, we hope, we pray, we beg for some companionship. We want to see this man find love, or comfort, or even just a little bit of hope. It is elusive.
Kashua explores the ideas of migration, language, and nationality through a perpetual internal monologue that at times, seems to give away too much of the author’s hand. There is an anxiety that permeates this narrative, soaking it in a conflict between staying with a troubled, war-torn country, and fleeing to a country where everything looks and feels alien. What is moral, what is ethical, what is right, what is wrong? At one point in the story, Saeed points out: “I felt repulsed by that hideous glimmer of hope. The hope that this human sacrifice would redeem the souls of my children.” How far does one flee from their identity if it means the safety of their children?
As a child of first-generation immigrants, I’ve seen the struggle between the need to adapt to the new culture you’ve fallen into and simultaneously hold onto the one you’ve left behind. There is no healthy balance. My parents chose the roots of their past over the wings that might’ve sprouted a future. We moved back to India before I turned a teenager, before I could be afflicted with this Americanness. I see this reflected in the narrator’s (or is it Kashua’s?) own relationship with his children. Will his children ever know the language he grew up with? Will they know of the music he listened to? Will his boys learn how to shave by slyly looking at the mirror as he shaves? Will this westernization ruin their roots? This was something that he grappled with even growing up in Israel: “We never drew houses that resembled the houses in which we lived,” he says.
And that leaves an uncomfortable, tingly feeling—is the loss of one’s roots even a loss anymore?
The narrator seeks solace, seeks redemption in his writing: “As long as I write, I mummify my father, and his body, albeit old and sick, remains whole and beside my desk.” But he is also plagued by the anxiety of saving a final copy, of accepting the finality of a fate that he detests. And so, he leaves his documents unfinished. He’s perpetually stuck tracking changes. Again, this sounds like autofiction, like Kashua can’t help bleeding through the pages. This entire narrative feels like his redemption. And I suspect that with this book, he’s ghostwriting his own memoir, adding and altering memories, but ultimately leaving the essence.