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She has interesting daydreams, and notices interesting things about other people, but there's some kind of critical mass or energy that, for me, the book doesn't quite reach.

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Kuwait is taken over, but Nidali's family gets away pretty easily. Nidali's father has a violent temper, but the family never goes totally dysfunctional. This non-drama drama may be more like life than much fiction, but it didn't satisfy my readerly desire for excitement and direction. I'm not sure, but I think that my unease may have something to do with the fact that the main character has so much in common, biographically, with the author. Could this have been a memoir? Certain things are different; for example, Nidali has only one sibling, while Jarrar has two.

I know that biographical speculation about an author is unfashionable, and in some ways dangerous, but in a case like this and in a literary climate where memoir is still huge , it's hard not to wonder how true to life the story is. I found myself imagining that I'd have been happier if Jarrar had taken one of two alternative routes: either given us a straight memoir, in which case I would have been impressed with her courage to reveal so much of herself, or fictionalized the book more, in which case there could have been more incident, some point at which I felt worried about Nidali or her family's physical safety or emotional fate.

View all 6 comments. Nov 10, Becky rated it liked it Shelves: middle-east-and-south-asia , , refugees-and-immigrants. This book tells the story of a girl, Nidali, growing up in Kuwait during the time before and during the Iraqi invasion, eventually fleeing to Egypt and the US. This book was just okay for me. I felt sometimes that the writing seemed a little forced.

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I've generally appreciated the perspective of coming of age stories, when stories are told from the point of view of a young person, however I didn't really enjoy it in this book. I think its because the narrator is so spunky and strong and independe This book tells the story of a girl, Nidali, growing up in Kuwait during the time before and during the Iraqi invasion, eventually fleeing to Egypt and the US.

I think its because the narrator is so spunky and strong and independent Nidali often had very deep insights into things that were happening around her, but again they seemed unrealistic for someone so young. I felt like the plot and characters weren't developed all that well and in some ways I felt like I was always waiting for the book to get started. All that being said, there were parts of the book that I really did enjoy. Nidali's family was interesting- her father was Palestinian and her mother Greek, a definite globalized family.

And I did like the character of her mother, I just wish it would have been more developed. And it was an engrossing story that kept me interested. Oct 04, Sandy D. I've read a lot of memoirs about the Middle East, but this one was unique. The author's humor, her incredible use of language including bad language! I hope she writes a lot more books. Sep 13, Jason Pettus rated it liked it. Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.


  • A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar | Penguin Random House Canada.
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I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally. My apologies for the error. Many thanks to Goodreads. I know, I know! It's undeniable at this point, the rapidly growing interest among Western audiences right now for creative, character-based fiction from the Middle East; this is one of the most important things about the arts in general, after all, the thing that's made the arts so important to humans throughout history, is that it's how many of us process and understand topics we don't know much about, complicated topics that are sometimes difficult for us to wrap our minds around.

Because of America's involvement there over the last decade, because of the rise of this region as the next minor world power, it's made Westerners and especially Americans more and more curious about what seems to us to be a very mysterious place; and rather than dusty history books and manipulative corporate news reports, many people find the creative projects from a region to be the best aid for getting a fair, balanced, humanistic handle over it all.

But there's also a problem with this as we all know, that when a subject in the arts suddenly becomes "hot," it leads not just to a few brilliant projects finally getting the attention they deserve, but a whole pile of badly-done knockoffs too, the literal definition of "riding someone's coattails. Oh Lord , let's not forget. Today's book, in fact, is a very good example of what I'm talking about, Randa Jarrar's A Map of Home : because some people will see this as a funny, illuminating book that takes pains to show off all the cultural similarities between struggling families in both the West and East, and will love the book for it; while others will see it as a pretty typical coming-of-age tale that just happens to benefit from the momentary hotness of its setting, a tale that has some basic problems on top of everything else, and will not like the book very much for it.

And both these people are right, frankly; when all is said and done, it is ultimately a literary debut that is merely slightly above inconsequential, undeniably benefiting commercially these days from its unique outlook, essentially a foot in the arts-industry door that is Jarrar's to either improve upon or waste with her next novel. What will happen in the future is anyone's guess, of course; but the book is certainly the sign of a writer you should at least pay attention to, who at least has the potential to really astound us all just a little bit down the road, or just as easily become a forgotten one-hit-wonder.

As mentioned, it's basically a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale, set in various locales around the Middle East and the US, as Jarrar's proud middle-class family is forced to run away from one war after the next; and this is why I say that Jarrar has the potential at this point to become an obscure one-hit-wonder, because history is littered now with people who had exactly one great coming-of-age novel in them, but were never able to convert these skills into writing great original stories out of whole-cloth.

And that's because the real events of our late childhoods just naturally follow a three-act structure nicely on their own; there's a certain pattern and rhythm to almost everyone's late teens, certain "beats" in life that we all hit, making stories about such events instantly relatable by the mere act of writing them down. No matter where on the planet you live or when in history, if you're a year-old girl you're simply going to have to deal with your first period at some point or another; and since so many of these experiences in real life turn out to be comically traumatic, writing a story about your own comical trauma can very quickly bond you to your audience.

And now, like I said, add what seems to many Westerners like the very exotic nature of the Middle East; because our hero Nidali happens to be dealing with her own puberty right in the middle of the various regional wars over there in the s, a Palestinian whose family first got run out of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, then were told not to come back after the Gulf War was over, traveling through various places like Iraq and Egypt until finally landing in the middle of white-trash Texas. And let's face it, that for many readers, this is all they need to make such a book a worthwhile read -- a story they can relate to, full of interesting references to confusing events and places they're always seeing mentioned in the news, a way to better understand what's going on over there precisely by filtering it through the family-drama tropes they're already used to.

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But see, this is where A Map of Home first starts having problems too, because Jarrar makes some of these stories just too improbably twee and precious, as if she was already picturing the high-budget award-winning Hollywood adaptation that would soon be following. I mean, really, an angry letter to Hussein about how his war is interrupting her chances to get to third base with her teenage boyfriend?

This manuscript is filled with such cutesy NPR-worthy anecdotes, which will simply make some people react with Oprahesque delight and some with jaded disgust.


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Unfortunately, though, the biggest problem with A Map of Home is its uneven tone as it nears the end; to be precise, part 3 of the book feels like it was the first section actually written, and that it was written specifically as a series of artsy short stories for some academic writing program, stories that are stuffy and pretentious and with a veritable checklist of Iowa-Workshop-type problems. Bad joke about misconstruing Ed McMahon's "you could already be a winner" sweepstakes letter as real?

Creepy middle-aged men constantly throwing themselves at overweight immigrant teens? Surprisingly sophisticated understanding of postmodern feminist theory? Entire chapter written in second-person for no particular reason at all? Main character who wants to study writing when she goes off to college? As so that ironically makes the book flow in the opposite way most do; that is, it's at its most casual and assured at the beginning, its most labored and unsure at the end, sadly leaving a bad taste in the mouth after finishing instead of sending us off on a high note.

That's ultimately why I say that Jarrar's future as a writer is now in her hands, because this is neither a spectacularly great book nor spectacularly awful; it's more of a blank slate than anything else, something that merely proves that she can write, and that guarantees she'll get at least one more chance to publish one of these things. What will Jarrar do with this opportunity? Will she transcend the hacky territory of autobiographical coming-of-age fiction next time, shrug off the terrible academic literary gimmicks she's picked up during the process of getting her three freaking writing degrees?

Or will she find herself simply with not much creative juice left at all, now that she's already expelled this mostly true story from her system? Whatever the case, A Map of Home is a book I cautiously recommend today; if you're the type that happens to be into these subjects, you'll definitely want to check it out, while if you're ever caught yourself saying that you never want to read another Judy Blume story again for the rest of your life, you may want to give today's title a pass. Out of 8. I am in love with this book! I know I could have finished it in a few days, but I really wanted to read it slowly and enjoy it.

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I picked this book up at our book sale last year, and I was in the mood for something honest and ripe. Wow, did I find it in this novel. Nidali Ammar is born to an Egyptian mother and Palestinian father in the great city of Boston in the s. The first chapter was hilarious as Nidali's father is convinced he has sired a son and decides to name the baby "My Struggle," I am in love with this book!

The first chapter was hilarious as Nidali's father is convinced he has sired a son and decides to name the baby "My Struggle," which is a terrible name for a girl as the mother screams in Arabic throughout the halls of the hospital. Nidali coming from two worlds considers herself "half-and-half," which I definitely related to. At an early age, her parents move to Kuwait where Nidali eventually gets a baby brother and experiences the harsh reality of the Gulf War, which begins on her thirteenth birthday. With Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army invading, Nidali's family must flee to Egypt where Nidali is now looking for a home within her mother's country.

Nidali's family eventually makes their last move to Texas once she is in high school, and all hell breaks loose with her want to grow up and be her own woman or live the life her overbearing father has planned for her. Let me just say, I lived a completely different life from Nidali, but I resonated with her very much as a character.

The story is told as a first-person narrative, so you really grow and love her from the beginning because of her quirks and charm. As mentioned above, I consider myself "half-and-half" although I am half white and half-Asian. I do know what it is like living with an overbearing father who knows everything and a very eccentric mother. In essence, this book could easily be about my family other than the parts where her Baba aka father gets abusive with her.

I truly loved her mother's character because she reminded me so much of my own crazy mother. My favorite parts involve Nidali writing a letter to Saddam Hussein and the story of the wasp while losing her virginity. A Map of Home is an unusual yet highly entertaining book. I've never read anything like it before, and I loved it. I've never read a book that takes place in the Middle East, so I really didn't know what to expect. Nidali's struggles through childhood to adulthood with forthright language and beautiful imagery make it a book not to miss. I'm not in a book club, but I highly recommend this one.

The characters are delightful and real, which make the book a gem. Also, I learned something that I must share with the world. Nidali talks about Jay-Z's song "Big Pimpin," and her father tells her that the song is from a famous Egyptian musician. I always wonder where they stole the hook.

Gotta give props to Abdel Haleem. You can hear the music on YouTube.


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Apr 14, CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian rated it really liked it Shelves: bisexual , fiction , american , arab , feminism , historical , queer. Loved it.