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Santa Claus in Baghdad and Other Stories about Teens in the Arab World

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Overview

What is it like to be a young person in the Arab world today? This lively collection of eight short stories about Arab teenagers living in Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and a Palestinian refugee camp engagingly depicts young people's experiences growing up in the Middle East. The characters, drawn from urban and rural settings and from different classes as well as a mix of countries, confront situations involving friends, family, teachers, and society at large. Along with some ...

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Santa Claus in Baghdad and Other Stories about Teens in the Arab World

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Overview

What is it like to be a young person in the Arab world today? This lively collection of eight short stories about Arab teenagers living in Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and a Palestinian refugee camp engagingly depicts young people's experiences growing up in the Middle East. The characters, drawn from urban and rural settings and from different classes as well as a mix of countries, confront situations involving friends, family, teachers, and society at large. Along with some specifically Middle Eastern issues, such as strife in Iraq, the hardships of life in a Palestinian refugee camp, and honor crimes, the young people deal with more familiar concerns such as loyalty to friends, overcoming personal insecurities, dreams of a future career, and coping with divorcing parents. Coming of age in a complicated world, they meet life with courage, determination, and, not least of all, humor. With accompanying notes that provide contextual information, Santa Claus in Baghdad brings a fresh perspective to youth literature about the Arab world.

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Editorial Reviews

ForeWord
"... Marston's stories, while withholding nothing of the brutality of some of the more controversial aspects of Muslim life, present characters that are three dimensional and easy to empathize with. Her stories are filled with characters that are heroic, generous, and eager to improve their world." —ForeWord
Multicultural Review
"A window into often misunderstood and stereotyped Middle Eastern cultures.... Marston's sensitive tales feature compelling characters, interesting dilemmas, and vivid language that evoke a Middle East rich in tradition and filled with a love of poetry and learning." —Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Multicultural Review

— Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Voice of Youth Advocates
"A realistic portrait of the Middle East that mixes possibility and bleakness in equal measure." —Voice of Youth Advocates, August 2008
The Midwest Book Review
"A unique anthology of stories, highly recommended to young adult readers everywhere." —The Midwest Book Review
Middle East Book Review and Announcements
Author Elsa Marston has written a wonderful book about the Middle East...[a] compelling collection...offers real insight into why the conflicts continue, contracts what Americans think they know and how little they really know about the causes of the conflicts from the standpoints of innocense and tragedy and perilous lives of young children clouded only by the desire for peace.

I read it and I couldn't put it down until I was finished. I hope you will read it too.

This book needs to be in every library.—Ray Hanania, Middle East Book Review and Announcements, Sunday, Dec 14, 2008

— Ray Hanania

Middle East Book Review and Announcements (ibookreviews.blogspot.com/)
"Author Elsa Marston has written a wonderful book about the Middle East...[a] compelling collection...offers real insight into why the conflicts continue, contracts what Americans think they know and how little they really know about the causes of the conflicts from the standpoints of innocense and tragedy and perilous lives of young children clouded only by the desire for peace.

I read it and I couldn't put it down until I was finished. I hope you will read it too.

This book needs to be in every library." —Ray Hanania, Middle East Book Review and Announcements (ibookreviews.blogspot.com/), Sunday, Dec 14, 2008

— Ray Hanania

Multicultural Review - Lyn Miller-Lachmann
"A window into often misunderstood and stereotyped Middle Eastern cultures.... Marston's sensitive tales feature compelling characters, interesting dilemmas, and vivid language that evoke a Middle East rich in tradition and filled with a love of poetry and learning." —Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Multicultural Review
ForeWord - Chantal Walvoord
"Though few examples of popular culture depict Arabs in a positive light, Marston's collection is one of the exceptions. Marston, who worked and traveled extensively to the Middle East, has an uncanny ability to understand the Muslim culture and relay her characters' innermost thoughts to Western audiences." —Chantal Walvoord, ForeWord
Middle East Book Review and Announcements (http://ibookreviews.blogspot.com/) - Ray Hanania
"Author Elsa Marston has written a wonderful book about the Middle East...[a] compelling collection...offers real insight into why the conflicts continue, contracts what Americans think they know and how little they really know about the causes of the conflicts from the standpoints of innocense and tragedy and perilous lives of young children clouded only by the desire for peace.

I read it and I couldn't put it down until I was finished. I hope you will read it too.

This book needs to be in every library." —Ray Hanania, Middle East Book Review and Announcements (http://ibookreviews.blogspot.com/), Sunday, Dec 14, 2008

From the Publisher
Author Elsa Marston has written a wonderful book about the Middle East...[a] compelling collection...offers real insight into why the conflicts continue, contracts what Americans think they know and how little they really know about the causes of the conflicts from the standpoints of innocense and tragedy and perilous lives of young children clouded only by the desire for peace.

I read it and I couldn't put it down until I was finished. I hope you will read it too.

This book needs to be in every library.—Ray Hanania"Middle East Book Review and Announcements (http: //ibookreviews.blogspot.com/)" (01/01/2008)

ForeWard
Though few examples of popular culture depict Arabs in a positive light, Marston's collection is one of the exceptions." "Marston, who worked and traveled extensively to the Middle East, has an uncanny ability to understand the Muslim culture and relay her characters' innermost thoughts to Western audiences.
—Chantal Walvoord
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
Some of these stories have been previously published, especially in the collection Figs and Fate: Stories about Growing Up in the Arab World Today (2005). If your library owns that volume, perhaps you don't need to purchase this collection. The first story, the title story, is set in Baghdad in 2000. The family is struggling to survive with the embargo, forced to sell precious family possessions to buy medicine. As bad as it is, we all know that families have suffered much worse in Baghdad in the years since 2000. Other stories tell of Arab young people in a variety of countries, in various circumstances. Some are peasants, some are from well-educated families; some have fiercely enforced traditions (such as protecting a family's honor when a girl is seen as a flirt); some are caught up in uprisings. Marston provides 14 pages of notes of information giving context for each story. Reading this collection will be invaluable for Arab American YAs and for all in our culture eager to understand the Arab culture, the Middle East conflicts, and current events. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
VOYA - Beth E. Andersen
The tragedy of peaceful citizens caught up in the savagery of occupation, civil strife, class prejudices, and deadly rituals are brought to life in Marston's collection of stories about Middle Eastern teens. The cover tale is a moving remake of O. Henry's classic Gift of the Magi. Iraqi schoolchildren want to honor their departing teacher with a special gift. The value of friendship, the easy ingenuity of children, and the deep longing for learning, which are recurring themes in many of these stories, are strongly evidenced. The brutal treatment of women in Jordan is addressed in Honor as Wafa watches in horror when her family imprisons her cousin who has been seen talking to a boy. The run-up to an honor killing and the efforts by human rights organizations in Jordan to stop the killings takes the reader step-by-step through the capture of the disgraced girl by hooded assailants. The plight of Palestinian refugees in Lebanese camps lays out the path from numbing despair to the lure of the terrorist life. The camps are filled with demoralized young men who cannot get work or who have had to drop out of college, with no way to improve their lives. Marston's characters, however, are able to find another way. In these and other stories, Marston, who has lived and visited the countries of which she writes, offers a realistic portrait of the Middle East that mixes possiblity and bleakness in equal measure. Reviewer: Beth E. Andersen
Children's Literature - Lesley Moore Vossen
This is a sensitive series of eight short stories chronicling the lives of teens in countries throughout the Arab world. The title story—and one of the loveliest in the book—takes place in Iraq in 2000. It tells how Amal's well-educated family is forced to sell off their books in order to live, tracing how she searches for the perfect book for her class to give their departing teacher and also how her small brother comes to confuse a wealthy visiting uncle with Santa Claus. There are stories from Syria, Palestine (where a young boy whose brother has been killed, finds courage and his own way of jihad in an olive grove), Lebanon (a young girl from Syria gives up, for a time, on her own dreams in order to help educate her brother, as she willingly goes to work as a maid servant for a Lebanese family), Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan (where the real horror of the tradition of "honor killings" almost plays out), and a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. The young people in the stories come from educated and well-to-do families and from poor and peasant families. Some stories take place in urban settings and others in rural areas. While the cultures of these young people may be very different from those of most young people in the United States, their dreams and the problems they must deal with as they come of age will be familiar to American teens. This is a beautifully written book that helps dispel some of the stereotypes held about the Arab world. Reviewer: Lesley Moore Vossen
School Library Journal

Gr 7-10

Eight short stories illuminate the experiences of adolescents in modern-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, and Jordan, yet many of their conflicts and concerns are universal in nature. In the title story, 13-year-old Amal learns some lessons about honor, gifts, and the act of giving when her seven-year-old brother confuses their wealthy uncle with Santa Claus. Suhayl cooks a homemade meal to bring joy into the life of his divorced mother in "Faces." Other situations are unique to the Middle East. For example, Mujahhid defends a Palestinian olive grove against the occupying Israeli military in "The Olive Grove." In the stellar "Honor," a beautiful young woman faces a possible "honor killing" at the hands of her disgraced family after she is seen in public with a man. "The Plan," in which a young Palestinian refugee in Lebanon orchestrates a meeting between his older brother and his charismatic art teacher, is utterly charming. Touches of suspense, romance, and humor keep the pages turning in this fine collection. Themes of faith, loyalty, and coming-of-age are sensitively handled and compellingly depicted. Notes explain each story's historical, political, and social context. This collection is an expanded version of Figs and Fate (Braziller, 2005). It will be popular with fans of Deborah Ellis and Suzanne Fisher Staples, and will also be an excellent supplemental reading choice for world-cultures curricula.-Amy Pickett, Ridley High School, Folsom, PA

Kirkus Reviews
Marston's timely and engaging collection of eight short stories offers provocative snapshots of Arab teenagers growing up in environments riddled with religious, historical and cultural dilemmas. These teens confront common coming-of-age issues as well as their unique indigenous challenges. In war-weary Baghdad, Amal discovers that a gift for her teacher comes at a high price. In ancient Damascus, Suhayl copes with his parents' divorce by making a special meal for the mother he must leave. In Lebanon, Aneesi chooses between an arranged marriage and her own dreams. In occupied Palestine, Mujahhid wages his own jihad against Israeli soldiers. Uprooted from modern Cairo, Rania defies her urbane mother by consorting with a village girl. In historic Tunisia, Hedi discovers he may have a future beyond selling hats to tourists. In Jordan, Yasmine wonders what is honorable about a family who would murder a daughter to save face. In a bleak Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, Rami finds the perfect wife for his brother. Amid unrest, resilient Arab teens find courage and hope and offer inspiration. (notes) (Fiction. 10-15)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253220042
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2008
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 216
  • Sales rank: 451,709
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Elsa Marston is the author of many works of fiction and nonfiction, mostly for young adults. Her books include Women in the Middle East: Tradition and Change, The Cliffs of Cairo, and Muhammad of Mecca, Prophet of Islam. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

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Table of Contents

Contents
Preface
Acknowledgments

1. Santa Claus in Baghdad
A story from Iraq (2000)
Do the best gifts always have to come at a high price?
2. Faces
A story from Syria
How can you try to make someone else happy when your own world is coming apart?
3. The Hand of Fatima
A story from Lebanon
Which comes first—loyalty to others or faith in your own dreams?
4. The Olive Grove
A story from Palestine
Just how do you choose your battles?
5. In Line
A story from Egypt
Will a city girl ever feel quite at home in a farming village?
6. Scenes in a Roman Theater
A story from Tunisia
Do you have to wait for the story of your life to change—or can you help to tell it yourself?
7. Honor
A story from Jordan
Whose honor is at stake when a girl breaks the rules?
8. The Plan
A story from a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon
Can the spring flowers bloom—and love blossom—where hope is so scarce?

Notes

Indiana University Press

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