Randa Jarrar’s A Map of Home
I was so overloaded with work last fall that I didn’t have time at all for any pleasure reading, which is why I came so late to my friend Randa Jarrar‘s debut novel, A Map of Home. This is a traditional bildungsroman, but one in which the hero is actually a Greek-Palestinian-Egyptian heroine named Nidali, who grows up in Kuwait and Texas, who puts in a strong argument for why the Egyptian crooner Abdel Halim must have been gay, and whose attempts at college entrance essays include one titled “I Come From Crazy Stubborn, Mad Lovin’ Hoes.” I read the book in one sitting. Jarrar writes with honesty and humor about what it’s like to be a Palestinian girl in Kuwait, or an Arab in Texas. Here’s a small excerpt from the middle of the book, when Nidali’s father decides he will write his memoir:
Your father was the #1 student in all of Jenin!” Baba said proudly one afternoon after supper. “I blew fear into the other boys’ hearts. No one surpassed me. I rode the donkey down to school every morning and sat in the classroom–which was freezing in wintertime since some of the windows were broken–and I always had my hand up: I could answer any question. Without fail, my name appeared first on that list every year.”
I wanted Baba to tell me more about this donkey, about growing up in Palestine on the small hill in the small house, spreading mats for beds on the floor of the one-room house. “I’d rather hear your stories than study any book,” I said, and, unfortunately for me, he took this announcement literally.
“Then bring me a piece of paper!” he commanded. “And bring me a pen!” he said, so I did, and then he said, “Sit! Now write: Ever…wait.” He stared off into the window, or at the branches in the fake forest we painted on the wall. “Evergreen,” he said, “write it,” so I did. Then he said, “Now write, A Memoir, Waheed Ammar,” so I wrote, A Memoir, Waheed Ammar. Then he stared off again and anxiously bit the inside of his cheeks, his mouth twisted to the side and his lips pouting.
“There…No! Don’t write that. Wait! The hills in 1901…No! Did you write that? Don’t write it. Wait till I say full stop. Wait! Fuck, you’re ruining my inspiration. Kids! You can’t be an artist and have kids! Now sit, don’t stand there leaning that paper against the couch, didn’t you hear? I said a memoir. So sit.”
You can find out more about the book here.