I‘ve been thinking about Rachel Corrie and her life so much recently it almost feels like I‘ve been cheating on my partner. That‘s because Let Me Stand Alone. The Journals of Rachel Corrie is one of those rare things – a book that provides, through the example of an extraordinary life, a template on how one could or should live one‘s own life, much like American classics such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X, On The Road and Walden influenced previous generations.
Born in 1979 in Olympia in the United States, Corrie came to the world‘s attention on 16 March 2003, when she was crushed to death by an Israeli armoured bulldozer as she attempted to non-violently block the demolition of Palestinian houses in Gaza. She was 23.
Corrie‘s family have intelligently compiled her letters, emails, school papers, journal entries, lists, poems, sketches and press releases to give a remarkable insight in to their daughter‘s private thoughts and political evolution that led her to join the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine in January 2003.
Describing her first love, trips to Russia and Belize, studying at the local state college, working the graveyard shift and conservation work on Mount Rainer, Corrie is clearly a talented writer, prone to romantic and fantastical imaginings.
Throughout she grapples with her "senselessly privileged existence". Realising "a lot in this world depends right now on the middle class in the United States" Corrie constantly pushes herself forward, worrying that the local anti-war activism she becomes involved in after 9/11 "is missing a solid connection to the people who are most immediately impacted by US foreign policy." In ‘Summer 2002‘ she simply states: "I hear from Chris in Gaza. I am being invited there. I need to go."
After her arrival in the Palestine her prose style changes radically, her writing exhibiting an immediacy to rival the best firsthand reportage. In one letter to her mother she explains that "state policies that lead to death by malnutrition, destruction of housing, ‘accidental shootings‘, assassinations, economic strangulation and imprisonment without trial are all acts of state terrorism". Elsewhere she emphasises that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not "a balanced conflict", but a "national liberation struggle of a largely unarmed people against the fourth most powerful military in the world."
While the best-selling journals of fellow Washington State native Kurt Cobain confirmed popular prejudices about the apathetic and nihilistic attitude of young people today, in contrast Corrie keenly engages with the world around her in an attempt to improve the lives of others. However, rather than being po-faced and overly serious, much of Corrie‘s writing is, infact, very funny and charmingly self-deprecating – for example she seems to have a running joke with herself about wearing "slutty" clothing.
Most importantly, within Corrie‘s writing is an implicit challenge to the reader – what are you doing to end the horrors committed in your name? As her father notes in the introduction, "she understood that moral beliefs require more from us than dinner-table banter".
Inspiring and thought-provoking in equal measure, Let Me Stand Alone is an astonishing testament to a heroine of our time.
Published by Granta, priced £12.99. Ian Sinclair is a freelance journalist based in London, England. [email protected].