Monday, October 5, 2009

29. "A Map of Home" by Randa Jarrar

In italiano: La Collezionista di Storie di Randa Jarrar, edito da Piemme (2009), € 17,50
Leggi la mia recensione in italiano nella rivista on-line Paper Street (qui link)

Year of first publication: 2008
Genre: novel, bildungsroman
Country: USA / Egypt / Palestine / Kuwait

About the author: Randa Jarra was born in 1978 in Chicago from a Palestinian father and a Greek-Egyptian mother. Randa and her family moved to Kuwait when she was only two months old and in 1990, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, they escaped to Egypt and then to the USA. She got a degree in Middle Eastern Studies from an American university and she is a translator from Arabic, but also a blogger and a short-story writer. She lives in Michigan with her partner and son. Her website is .

The review of this book has been published in Italian on the on-line review Paper Street (link).

However, I'd like to add a part of an interview with Randa Jarrar appeared on Zocalo Public Square (link). The main character of the novel is called Nidali. Here's what the author says about her:

"Nidali is very bossy, loud, profane, funny, and she’s obsessed with her family’s history and her identity, and with how her new, sort of post-postcolonial self fits into the larger world she inhabits. She spends a lot of the novel trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs in the grand scheme, not just with her family, but with her international self, and who she want to be as opposed to who she is expected to be. Her family is full of failed artists, her dad is a failed poet and her mom is a failed concert pianist, and their main identity is rooted in their failure as artists. Their secondary identity is given to them by their own families, their places of origin—her mom’s as an Egyptian, and her father’s as a Palestinian. Nidali comes out of that, being a sort of mixed child in a somewhat homogenous culture. Even though they’re Arabs, her parents are from two different countries and it’s still seen as somewhat bizarre and out of the norm. From the very beginning, she has this feeling of being out of place, or being strange, or being a mix of things. Throughout the novel, she explores this mix, and tries to figure out a way for herself to be whole in the face of all this mixing."

And here's what Jarrar says about literary expectations on Arab and Arab American writers:

"I think readers tend to like stories by Muslim and Arab American women that detail sort of women’s oppression. Instead of a rags-to-riches story, it’s more of a hijab-to-freedom story. It doesn’t occur, I think, to most Americans, or not just Americans but the general population, that a woman can wear a hijab and can be the mistress of her own household and her own life and all that. I think there is a preoccupation with that kind of story.
There is also I think an expectation that an Arab American writer is going to tell sort of whimsical, magical stories, that Arabian Nights, genie-in-a-bottle sort of stereotype that an Arab American is an adept storyteller. That is what people expect, fantastical stories about ridiculous stuff, just bullshit. I think the oppressed woman, the ornate magic story, and maybe a third strain would be the hyper-political novel, or if not hyper-political, the somewhat didactic novel, not even set in America, or set in America featuring new immigrants, and showing the politically charged aspect of being Arab American or Arab post-9/11. Readers expect these books to be testaments of on-the-edge fundamentalists, not quite someone who is a fundamentalist, but how they might become one, how they might be understood. I think those are the preferred stories that are expected. There are more, but those are a few that seem the most pronounced, the ones that I’ve seen."


  1. very interesting, i don't know this book. maybe i will read it in italian language because there is discount for Piemme pubblishing. thank you very much
    sonia nepalese

  2. Interesante, anche io voglio leggerlo!

  3. Sì, è un romanzo divertente e si legge veramente in due volte. Magari non un capolavoro della letteratura mondiale, però carino. E c'è lo sconto sulla Piemme, eheheh!

  4. I commented on this but couldn't post it due to internet mis-connectivity. okay, I hope this works. I was saying that most of the time people are prejudiced as to what a good writing for a particular area should be. For instance, an African novel that mentions planes, malls, and cars in the city is deemed not African enough. Even in the 21st Century some publishers expect African novelists to write like Chinua Achebe (because that is what sells). And funny enough some are obeying this requirement. Do you know that Chimamanda Adichie had a problem publishing 'Purple Hibiscus' because publishers kept asking her to water it down and make it more African. It is funny and a pity how stereotypical some people are.

    I see you are reading The Thing Around Your Neck....happy reading and let me know your thoughts