Lena Mahmoud comes to the blog today with her debut offering
Isra has always felt ‘out of place’ in her life: never quite accepted by either half of her being. Too dark to be accepted as white and the result of an unmarried pregnancy with a white mother and no real connection to her Arab half, with her mother’s death she is brought to live with her father’s cousins and their two children. Resented by her ‘aunt’ Samia, mostly ignored by her ‘uncle’ Nasser, she has been, almost from the start, the Cinderella in their home. Given a room and shelter yes, but her aunt constantly refers to her mother as a whore and her as the result of that shame. Using her to cook, clean and mostly raise her two children, Rasheed and Haman while accepting (or tolerating) the constant demand that she be grateful and pliant, but most of all, accepting of the crumbs handed her. Now at 21, her family believes that the best option for her is marriage, if a man can be found to take on this tainted young girl. But a bonus comes in the form of Yusef, a boy she met at her only friend’s house, knew in school and shared some simple flirtations.
Isra and Yusef are married, and while she’s got very “American’ ideas about marriage, working women, self-determination and her own desires. Feeling as if it’s her against the world, she’s always a bit argumentative and quick to anger – years of resentment and being made to feel like less has worn her control thin – and with Yusef appearing to be thrilled with their match, he’s the first (but not only) target for her anger and woes. Failed pregnancies, not really speaking Arabic with his mother and sisters visiting or requiring them to visit constantly, and feeling as if everyone is judging her and her ‘ideas’, she’s always on guard for the next judgment, phrase, or look. Frustrated with the misogyny present in the more traditional homes, still grieving for her mother and wondering about her mother’s family, never quite white enough for society, or Arab enough for her father’s relations: she’s struggling with questions of identity, place and choices as she straddles two worlds in which she feels alien in both.
Written in a way that feels very ‘stream of consciousness’ in Isra’s voice, it’s curious to see her rather conservative thinking (to Americans of modern days) as it further separates her from one side and how her views are so radical to the traditional views of the life she believes she has been placed in: leaving her not quite a member of either. Heart wrenching and completely honest, the portrayal of a woman trying to find a place for herself and her views in two dramatically contrasting worlds, and her gradual acceptance of the diverse sides of who she is, and in so doing, gives us all a bit of insight into the common desires we all have for acceptance, family, love and a place to call our own- no matter what our DNA, parental figures or society decides is what we should want.
Title: Amreekiya: A Novel
Author: Lena Mahmoud
Genre: Assimilation, Family Saga, Literary Fiction, Middle East, Multi-Cultural, Woman's Fiction
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Published on: 22 October, 2018
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
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Isra Shadi, a twenty-one-year-old woman of mixed Palestinian and white descent, lives in California with her paternal amu (uncle), amtu (aunt), and cousins after the death of her mother and abandonment by her father at a young age. Ever the outcast in her amu and amtu's household, they eagerly encourage Isra to marry and leave. After rejecting a string of undesirable suitors, she marries Yusef, an old love from her past.
In Amreekiya, author Lena Mahmoud deftly juggles two storylines, alternating between Isra's youth and her current life as a married twentysomething who is torn between cultures and trying to define herself. The chapters chronicle various moments in Isra's narrative, including the volatile relationship of her parents and the trials and joys of forging a partnership with Yusef. Mahmoud also examines Isra's first visit to Palestine, the effects of sexism, how language affects identity, and what it means to have a love that overcomes unbearable pain.
An exploration of womanhood from an underrepresented voice in American literature, Amreekiya is simultaneously unique and relatable. Featuring an authentic array of characters, Mahmoud's first novel is a much-needed story in a divided world.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.