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A Map of Home: A Novel

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Overview

From America to the Middle East and back again— the sparkling story of one girl’s childhood, by an exciting new voice in literary fiction

In this fresh, funny, and fearless debut novel, Randa Jarrar chronicles the coming-of-age of Nidali, one of the most unique and irrepressible narrators in contemporary fiction. Born in 1970s Boston to an Egyptian-Greek mother and a Palestinian father, the rebellious Nidali—whose name is a feminization of the word “struggle”—soon moves to a ...

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Overview

From America to the Middle East and back again— the sparkling story of one girl’s childhood, by an exciting new voice in literary fiction

In this fresh, funny, and fearless debut novel, Randa Jarrar chronicles the coming-of-age of Nidali, one of the most unique and irrepressible narrators in contemporary fiction. Born in 1970s Boston to an Egyptian-Greek mother and a Palestinian father, the rebellious Nidali—whose name is a feminization of the word “struggle”—soon moves to a very different life in Kuwait. There the family leads a mildly eccentric middle-class existence until the Iraqi invasion drives them first to Egypt and then to Texas. This critically acclaimed debut novel is set to capture the hearts of everyone who has ever wondered what their own map of home might look like.

Read Randa Jarrar's posts on the Penguin Blog.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Jarrar's sparkling debut about an audacious Muslim girl growing up in Kuwait, Egypt and Texas is intimate, perceptive and very, very funny. Nidali Ammar is born in Boston to a Greek-Egyptian mother and a Palestinian father, and moves to Kuwait at a very young age, staying there until she's 13, when Iraq invades. A younger brother is born in Kuwait, rounding out a family of complex citizenships. During the occupation, the family flees to Alexandria in a wacky caravan, bribing soldiers along the way with whiskey and silk ties. But they don't stay long in Egypt, and after the war, Nidali's father finds work in Texas. At first, Nidali is disappointed to learn that feeling rootless doesn't make her an outsider in the States, and soon it turns out the precocious and endearing Arab chick isn't very different from other American girls, a reality that only her father may find difficult to accept. Jarrar explores familiar adolescent ground-stifling parental expectations, precarious friendships, sensuality and first love-but her exhilarating voice and flawless timing make this a standout. (Sept.)

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Library Journal

Born in the United States to a Palestinian father and an Egyptian mother of Greek descent, Nidali begins life with an identity crisis on many levels. Originally assumed to be a boy, she is given a name that means "strife" or "struggle" by her father, who adds the feminizing "i" when he realizes that she is actually a girl. The family moves to Kuwait when Nidali is a baby and lives there until Iraq invades the country on Nidali's 13th birthday, forcing them to flee to Alexandria, Egypt, and eventually to Texas. Jarrar's debut novel is a coming-of-age tale told from Nidali's perspective, spanning her birth through acceptance into college. Since her parents fight constantly and her father is abusive, school serves as a refuge throughout, as Nidali studies hard, establishes friendships, and faces issues of belonging, parental expectations, religion, sexual experimentation, and rebellion. This wonderfully engaging work has vivid descriptions of the different places Nidali lives and the culture she grows up in; the only negative is that the novel is perhaps unnecessarily laced with strong language, which may make it less universally appealing. Highly recommended.
—Sarah Conrad Weisman

Kirkus Reviews
A first-time novelist offers a fictional take on her own complex heritage. Nidali's Baba is Palestinian. Her Mama is half-Greek and half-Egyptian. In addition to this mixed-up background, Nidali has an American passport and a precociously peripatetic personal history. Born in Boston, Nidali grows up in Kuwait, but her family flees to Egypt during the 1990 Iraqi invasion. By the time she lands in Texas, Nidali has become a seasoned traveler, and, wherever she goes, she carries with her a keen awareness of her inescapable difference. Nidali's story is shaped by the harsh realities of ethnic division, political uncertainty and war, but it is also, essentially, a typical coming-of-age story. Jarrar is a funny, incisive writer, and she's positively heroic in her refusal to employ easy sentimentality or cheap pathos. Nidali is a misfit living through calamitous times, but Jarrar understands that all adolescents feel like misfits living through calamitous times. The political is always personal for Nidali. For her, bombs dropping on Kuwait mean that nobody remembers her 13th birthday. As her family drives across Iraq on their way to Egypt, she writes a letter to Saddam Hussein complaining that his invasion has separated her from her boyfriend. And, ultimately, international crises have less impact on Nidali's life than ongoing battles between her and her Baba on subjects like curfew and college. A coming-of-age story that's both singular and universal-an outstanding debut. Agent: Jin Auh/The Wylie Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143116264
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/25/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 728,428
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Randa Jarrar was born in Chicago in 1978. She grew up in Kuwait and Egypt, and moved back to the U.S. at thirteen. She is a writer and translator whose honors include the Million Writers Award, the Avery Hopwood and Jule Hopwood Award and the Geoffrey James Gosling Prize. Her fiction has appeared in Ploughshares as well as in numerous journals and anthologies. Her translations from the Arabic have appeared in Words Without Borders: The World Through the Eyes of Writers; recently, she translated Hassan Daoud’s novel, The Year of the Revolutionary New Bread-Making Machine. She currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A Map of Home is her first novel.

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Foreword

1. Nidali opens with the story of her birth and says, "Baba realized that he didn't know my sex for sure but that didn't matter; he'd always known I was a boy." How does the fact that Nidali is female affect her relationship with her father? Do you think Waheed would have been as hard on her if she had been a boy? Examine the dynamics of this father-daughter relationship.

2. Nidali grows up in several different countries. What do you learn about adolescence from her varied perspective? Is it a universal experience?

3. Examine the several passages in which Nidali reflects on the idea of home and what it means to her. How does she define home? Is it a concept or something more concrete? What does the title refer to?

4. When Nidali’s religious cousin Esam comes to visit, he throws away her Wonder Woman stickers, proclaiming the character looks like a “naked heathen” and “a shameless prostitute.” Nidali looks at the remains of the stickers and says, “These white spots were, to me, parts of God.” What role does religion play in Nidali’s childhood? Does it change or evolve as she grows up?

5. Consider the different settings in the novel--Kuwait, Egypt, and Texas. Where do you think the Ammar family is the most content? Find instances when Jarrar weaves historical events into the plot and discuss the different ways her characters are affected by them.

6. Nidali writes a letter to Sadam Hussein to complain about the Iraqi invasion and how it is ruining her life. What does this reveal about Nidali? About the connection between the personal and the political?

7. Nidali's parents each live with thedisappointment that they gave up their dream careers: Waheed never became a great poet and Ruz never became a concert pianist. How does each parent deal with this regret? How do their failures affect Nidali and her own hopes for the future?

8. Nidali chronicles her family's new life in America in the chapter "The Shit No One Bothered to Tell Us." What is the effect of her ironic commentary in these vignettes? How does Nidali portray her new home? Does she find anything positive in Texas?

9. Waheed is a complex character, capable of extreme compassion and love as well as quick-tempered anger and abuse. Do you ever sympathize with Waheed? What are the driving forces of his behavior?

10. Nidali's sexual awakening is a significant part of her adolescence. From her first boyfriend Fakhr in Kuwait to her high-school crush Medina in Texas, Nidali goes through a range of joyous and unpleasant experiences. Compare and contrast these encounters. How does she react to heartbreak? To disappointment?

11. Growing up, Nidali is fascinated by her family history. In what ways does family history affect an individual life? How is Nidali shaped by those events in her family that occurred before her birth?

12. Does Waheed's acceptance of Nidali's final act of rebellion--going to the "forbidden fruit college in Boston"-- show he is finally ready to let go? Is his change of heart a reaction to his recent experiences as an immigrant is the U.S. or is it in keeping with his long-standing relationship with Nidali? Is this a fitting ending?

13. The book opens with Waheed holding a pen, and ends with Ruz throwing one out the window, and Nidali catching it. What role does writing play in the novel?

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Reading Group Guide

1. Nidali opens with the story of her birth and says, "Baba realized that he didn't know my sex for sure but that didn't matter; he'd always known I was a boy." How does the fact that Nidali is female affect her relationship with her father? Do you think Waheed would have been as hard on her if she had been a boy? Examine the dynamics of this father-daughter relationship.

2. Nidali grows up in several different countries. What do you learn about adolescence from her varied perspective? Is it a universal experience?

3. Examine the several passages in which Nidali reflects on the idea of home and what it means to her. How does she define home? Is it a concept or something more concrete? What does the title refer to?

4. When Nidali’s religious cousin Esam comes to visit, he throws away her Wonder Woman stickers, proclaiming the character looks like a “naked heathen” and “a shameless prostitute.” Nidali looks at the remains of the stickers and says, “These white spots were, to me, parts of God.” What role does religion play in Nidali’s childhood? Does it change or evolve as she grows up?

5. Consider the different settings in the novel--Kuwait, Egypt, and Texas. Where do you think the Ammar family is the most content? Find instances when Jarrar weaves historical events into the plot and discuss the different ways her characters are affected by them.

6. Nidali writes a letter to Sadam Hussein to complain about the Iraqi invasion and how it is ruining her life. What does this reveal about Nidali? About the connection between the personal and the political?

7. Nidali's parents each live with thedisappointment that they gave up their dream careers: Waheed never became a great poet and Ruz never became a concert pianist. How does each parent deal with this regret? How do their failures affect Nidali and her own hopes for the future?

8. Nidali chronicles her family's new life in America in the chapter "The Shit No One Bothered to Tell Us." What is the effect of her ironic commentary in these vignettes? How does Nidali portray her new home? Does she find anything positive in Texas?

9. Waheed is a complex character, capable of extreme compassion and love as well as quick-tempered anger and abuse. Do you ever sympathize with Waheed? What are the driving forces of his behavior?

10. Nidali's sexual awakening is a significant part of her adolescence. From her first boyfriend Fakhr in Kuwait to her high-school crush Medina in Texas, Nidali goes through a range of joyous and unpleasant experiences. Compare and contrast these encounters. How does she react to heartbreak? To disappointment?

11. Growing up, Nidali is fascinated by her family history. In what ways does family history affect an individual life? How is Nidali shaped by those events in her family that occurred before her birth?

12. Does Waheed's acceptance of Nidali's final act of rebellion--going to the "forbidden fruit college in Boston"-- show he is finally ready to let go? Is his change of heart a reaction to his recent experiences as an immigrant is the U.S. or is it in keeping with his long-standing relationship with Nidali? Is this a fitting ending?

13. The book opens with Waheed holding a pen, and ends with Ruz throwing one out the window, and Nidali catching it. What role does writing play in the novel?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 5, 2014

    Not recommended

    Not recommended

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2010

    Hilarious multicultural novel...

    The reviewer below would have us believe this novel is drenched with inappropriate sexual descriptions, but this is not the case. It's not any more inappropriate than similar novels men have been writing for centuries - Philip Roth, J.D. Salinger, Michael Chabon, etc. Finally here's a woman discussing the same topics, and this writer freaks out and says this somehow makes her too masculine? It's a coming-of-age story about a girl with a very unique cultural background-- she's half Palestinian and Egyptian, with a Christian grandmother and Muslim parents, an American passport, growing up in Kuwait at the time of the first Gulf War. The authorial presence is terrific, the narrator is hilarious, and readers will see how nuanced and complex Muslim families can be. Approach it with a little open-mindedness and try to learn something about how complicated, touching, funny, and messy growing up amid different worlds can be. Jarrar is a terrific writer, and I can't wait to read more from her.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2009

    By far the WORST book I have ever read in my life

    This book is about macho women, that are more concerned with being "strong" than "good". I had to read this book for class, and am thoroughly discussed with it. It is about a girl growing up confused about how she is supposed to act. She constantly masturbates through out the book, and feels guilty about it, and wonders if shes going to hell, but that it feels so good, so in the end it doesn't matter. She is a virgin initially, but hates being a virgin because it is supposed to be a gift for men. So she throws herself on a penis in order to shed her self of a gift for men. She also has some serious issues, in which she talks about not wanting to be on the bottom while she masturbates in the tub. She likes being on top so she has the power and can dominate the bidet while she gets off. I thought this book was pretty trashy, and had numerous swear words per paragraph, and several sex scenes. She talks about how she enjoys thinking about, and would like to write about women cheating on their husbands in barrels. She also constantly writes papers in her story about rapes, which do nothing to add to the plot, she just throws them in randomly. The really bad thing about this book is that it is so tortuously boring, and has nothing clever. No twists, no excitement, no cool fight scenes, nothing, just a boring narrative of a girl growing up. Overall a terrible book, that is not creative in the slightest, and I wish I had never wasted my fifteen dollars on it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2009

    Nice story

    This story was funny and touching and I loved the main character, Nidali. However, there were a lot of arabic words and references, which I think most people would have a hard time following. Overall, pretty good.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2008

    A Great Read.

    An absolutely delightful book that takes you from Boston to Kuwait to Egypt and finally settles in Texas. The author weaves a very interesting tale of Nidali Ammar and her eccentric family. Nidali is a girl born to a Palestinian father and an Egyptian mother. Unlike many books that I have read about the Middle East, Nidali's parents do not want her to marry young rather her father stresses education almost above everything else. He wants her to be a famous professor who can hold her own against any man. Her father's ambition feels like he is trying to live vicariously through her and since her younger brother shows early on that he is not a book worm her father rationalizes his obsession. Her father, Waheed, was forced to leave Palestine because of a war and he moved to Egypt where he got his university degree in Architecture/Engineering. But it is clear that his chosen career would most likely have been different had he been able to grow up in his own country, free of the turmoil of war. With this in mind, he concerntrates his efforts on making his daughter into all that he wished he had been. The story of the meeting and courtship of Nidali's parents is in stark contrast to the present that Nidali and her brother are forced to inhabit. Her parents fight often and use choice langauge in private and in front of their children. Her father is physically violent both to his wife and children. Yet despite his volatile temper, you find it a bit hard to hate him, I certainly did not like him but I think that the way that the story is crafted makes you acknowledge his numerous faults without fully detesting him. Her mother is somewhat odd but is essentially a good and feisty soul who feels trapped by the situations she finds herself in. On Nidali's thirteenth birthday, Sadaam Hussein attacks Kuwait which is Nidali's residence at the time. She and her family are forced to flee to Egypt and eventually end up in Texas where he father finds a job. Again she trys to find where she fits in and school becomes her refuge as it had been all her life. But again her father will not let her be her own person and they fight over her choices. Its almost impossible not to love Nidali. She is such a lovely young lady. Her observations about life are sometimes rib achingly funny. But even in these moments of hilarity, one is gleaning a picture of her world. A world that is frought with loneliness, displacement, loss and the search for an identity that is independent of your parents and culture, whilst still loving one's parents and culture. This book is very reminiscent of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis and it articulates many similar themes. I could have done without some of the crass and vulgar language. Also reading about a thirteen year old masturbating was certainly not a highlight of my day. But all in all I would absolutely recommend this book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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