Monday, August 31, 2009

Books I've read this week - A Map of Home

A Map of Home © 2008 by Randa Jarrar

About the book: “Nidali, the rebellious daughter of an Egyptian-Greek mother and a Palestinian father, narrates the story of her childhood in Kuwait, her teenage years in Egypt – following the 1990 Iraqi invasion – and her family’s flight to Texas

Nidali mixes humor with a sharp, loving portrait of an eccentric middle-class family, a perspective that keeps her buoyant through the hardships she encounters: the humiliation of going through a checkpoint on a visit to her father’s home in the West Bank; the fights with her hot-tempered father, who wants her to become a famous professor and stay away from boys; the end of her childhood as Iraq invades Kuwait on her thirteenth birthday; and the scare she gives her family when she runs away from home

One can not help but notice the inspiration Randa Jarrar’s own life provides for this first novel. Randa was born in Chicago, grew up in Kuwait and Egypt, and moved back to the U. S. at thirteen. Jarrar’s first-hand experience gives a sense of realism to the refugee experience portrayed in her story, one peppered with Arabic phrases and cultural references

Funny, charming, and heartbreaking, A Map of Home is the kind of book Tristram Shandy or Huck Finn would have narrated had they been born Egyptian-Palestinian and female in the 1970s.”

I read this thinking it was a true story – I don’t know why. And thinking it was real, I didn’t like how the author wrote about her life. Now that I’m done and realize that it IS a novel, I still don’t like the story very much but I did find it very interesting. The tone of the book was somewhat juvenile like a young girl really was telling the story. It does do a good job of portraying life in the Arabic countries, putting a fresh spin on the life of a young girl there.

The book is reviewed as ‘funny’; I didn’t find it so. The whole family went through a lot as the father moved them from place to place because of his job and later because of the Iraqi war. He felt frustrated and took it out on his wife and the two kids who he beat regularly. For example, here’s one passage where Nidali and her brother Gamal are comparing bruises from their father’s beatings. “Gamal and I compared our bruises like bomb sites on two different maps. ” That may be a cute comment but beating kids is not funny. Nidali is smart but also a smart ass. She thinks nothing of cussing at shopkeepers or taxi drivers or her parents. She uses the bidet to masturbate and practices kissing with her girlfriends. The book also has references to things that left me completely in the dark like this – “…. Baba took us all out to Zephyrion restaurant in Abu-Qir that night ....... On the way there we made fun of the name “Abu-Ear.” I called it Father-widn, and we all decided that’s what we’d call it from then on.” What the heck does that mean? I don’t mind books using foreign words when necessary but when I have no idea what they mean, I don’t like it.

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