Randa Jarrar’s A Map of Home //
Albeit having many stories to share, Arab-American writers are rare. So when I come across one, my expectations are high because I assume much time has been devoted to their work. Recent winner of the Arab American Book Award Randa Jarrar’s A Map of Home is an example of that. A coming of age novel that reads like a memoir, Jarrar tells the story of the part Palestinian, part Egyptian and part Greek character Nidali.
Being Palestinian myself, I can relate to Nidali. In fact, many Arabs in the West can. A Map of Home deals with themes like family, independence and identity. The serious issues are lightened with clever humour, as found in the direct translation of Arabic words and phrases into English, something most of us have grown accustomed to hearing from our parents.
Jarrar also knows how to develop characters, Nidali’s parents in particular. Waheed, the father, who sidelines his dreams of becoming a poet for a career that supports his family, reminds me of my mother who gave up art for a far less creative career. Waheed dreams through his daughter making her a prisoner of them. Jarrar creates a sort of juxtaposition to post 1967 conditions in the Occupied Territories with Waheed and Nidali’s relationship. Fairuza, her mother, a musician who finds happiness in a piano, struggles with her love of music and protecting both Nidali and herself from Waheed’s temper. Nidali wouldn’t be Palestinian without relocation playing a significant role in her life.
We follow her through her birth in Boston, her childhood in Kuwait, her first boyfriend, the Gulf-War, relocation to Egypt, curious sexual experimentation, and her return to America as a teenager. As we follow Nidali through the crucial moments of life, we learn that adapting to new cultures is just part of being Palestinian. Jarrar’s uses vivid imagery and memory to enable the reader to feel incredibly nostalgic. Nidali’s descriptions of how Waheed pronounces every word that starts with “P” as “B”, how he curses the hypocrisy of Arabs, Americans, Zionism and social cartoonists while watching the news, to her love of zaatar, to the memories of la belle époque of her parents, “They actually talked. There was no arguing, no oral divorcing, no flying objects (expect maybe clothing, but that, they claim, came only after marriage,” is read with a smile. Bold, clever and funny, A Map of Home is an excellent novel that competes with any Fairuz song when instigating nostalgia. So the next time you’re putting Fairuz on, try reading this novel instead, trust me.
Buy A Map of Home on Amazon
About the Author: Danah Abdulla was not born in Canada but has lived here since the age of two. A Palestinian with a degree from the University of Ottawa in something other than Engineering (Mass Communications, minor Commerce), she lives in Toronto where she works as a Digital Cultivator for a big advertising agency. She’s a freelance writer and a blogger. She likes to doodle, read, make jokes, and dance.