Advertisement Close

Randa Jarrar maps home

posted on: May 14, 2015

Randa Jarrar’s debut novel, A Map of Home, tells the story of a young Arab-American girl, Nidali, her uproarious journey through childhood, and the many homes she inhabits during those years.

Although A Map of Home treads familiar territory, such as the hardships of the immigrant experience, Jarrar infuses Nidali with enough wit and humour to make the narrative fresh and exciting.

My favourite scenes are those depicting family life; the constant bickering between her parents frequently elicits a genuine laugh-out-loud response. However, it is the seductive prose and the elegance with which Nidali’s sexuality unfolds that makes this novel a success and a must-read for Arabs and Americans alike.

Jarrar’s father stopped talking to her after reading the novel. He claims that by writing about sex, Randa dishonoured the Jarrar clan of Jenin – the very clan that he says defeated Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799 at Acre.

As far as novels go, it brings to mind Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Bukowski’s Ham on Rye, David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green – and definitely A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by Joyce.

Jarrar is one of a new generation of Arab-American writers, including such talents as Hisham Matar, Rabih Alameddine, Diana Abu Jaber and Rawi Hage to name but a few.

They inherit the literary legacy of those Arab writers who paved the way for working directly in English – the Egyptians Waguih Ghali, who published Beer in the Snooker Club in 1964 (before tragically taking his own life in London five years later), and the internationally acclaimed Ahdaf Soueif.
Last year, Randa wrote what proved to be a highly controversial essay in Salon, titled Why I Cannot Stand White Belly Dancers. The essay went viral online and sparked a wide-ranging discourse that gained Jarrar a mixture of fame and notoriety.

Jarrar argued that white belly dancers were engaging in cultural appropriation of the act of Raqs Sharqi, the classical Egyptian style. 

Such performances, she said, objectify and denigrate the sanctity of the Raqs Sharqi art among Arab women. Arab women are free and independent, and don’t need to be saved by Western women, she argued.

Jarrar’s prose is much like her – funny and lively. She throws back at life whatever life throws at her, in the most humble and spontaneous of ways, writing with a uniquely candid voice.

In May of 2014, Jarrar won a Provost’s Award Recipient for Promising New Faculty at CSU Fresno.

If there is one gift that I would give her, it would be The Secret History of Wonder Woman. I think her pink suitcase should have a huge Wonder Woman sticker.