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6Qs with Author Randa Jarrar //

Randa Jarrar.Credit Bering Photography

Photo courtesy Bering Photography

Randa Jarrar is the author of the critically acclaimed novel A Map of Home, which won a Hopwood Award, an Arab-American Book Award, and was named one of the best novels of 2008 by the Barnes and Noble Review. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Five Chapters, The Oxford American, The New York Times Magazine, The Utne Reader, and the Progressive. She has been chosen to take part in Beirut39, which celebrates the 39 most gifted writers of Arab origin under the age of 40. She currently lives in Austin, TX and took a break from her many projects to answer these 6Qs…

Favourite place in the Arab world: Beirut now.
Favourite book by an Arab author: Arabesques, by Anton Shammas
Jeem or Geem: Both!

1. You’re half-Egyptian and half-Palestinian. Despite being basically a full Arab, what are your favourite differences between the two?
Egyptians are so much funnier, I think. Palestinians are hotter (sorry, Egypt!) and their showers have better pressure. Maybe these things are related? My relationship with Egypt is physically stronger because I speak Arabic in Egyptian dialect, and I’ve gone there much more frequently.

2. As a Palestinian exiled to Canada via Kuwait (born there), I really related to your book because it dealt with identity. But in my opinion, it is difficult to claim a “quintessential” Palestinian identity because most of us are in exile and have to absorb a variety of cultures. How do you define your Palestinian identity and what are your thoughts on a universal Palestinian identity?
I think the only way to define Palestinian universal identity is to say that there is no such thing.

The moment you bulk people together is the moment you take away their humanity.

Meanwhile, I don’t necessarily think of myself as Palestinian. I don’t pretend to have suffered the way my relatives in Jenin have; or the way Palestinians in Gaza suffer today. I want to write a short film one day about a Palestinian-American who returns to Palestine (specifically, the West Bank) after she’s inherited some land, and the fiasco that ensues with her family members. It’ll be a black comedy. The Palestinian writer Adania Shibli inspired the idea when we were sitting on a bench in Wales last month.

3. You are a single un-wed mother, and as we both know, this is an incredible taboo amongst the Arab community. How have you dealt with it?
I am actually a twice-wed mother. I was a single mother for 12 years, and although having a baby out of wedlock is taboo, I’ve recently discovered that a huge percentage of Egyptian women are divorced mothers. So single parenthood is actually becoming a very common situation for women all over the world. The first time I took my son back to the Middle East, my family treated me the way they always did. I think if I hadn’t married his father (however briefly) things would have been different.

4. On some occasions you stated that you and your father have a rocky relationship. How do you feel this relationship with him has contributed to your overall writing?
Every act of writing is a betrayal, and I have never been interested in being a good girl. My father was always my first critic (and believe me, he criticized everything) so I think

that taught me to have a thick skin, to be strong, disciplined, and ruthlessly brave. These are all traits every writer needs to cultivate to succeed.

5. Did you ever have doubt or fear about publishing A Map of Home because of the subjects it tackled?
No. I knew there were certain people who were going to have a problem with it, and I simply don’t share the same values with them. I was in fact, very excited for it to be published.

6. What’s your next project?
I’ve written a collection of stories, and I’m finishing a new novel about a young single mother in Michigan and her magical baby son, and doing research for a new novel set in New York City during World War II.


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 but is currently roaming the Middle East. She’s a freelance writer and blogger. She likes to doodle, read, make jokes and dance.

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