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West of the Jordan: A Novel

West of the Jordan: A Novel

3.7 3
by Laila Halaby

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This is a brilliant and revelatory first novel by a woman who is both an Arab and an American, who speaks with both voices and understands both worlds. Through the narratives of four cousins at the brink of maturity, Laila Halaby immerses her readers in the lives, friendships, and loves of girls struggling with national, ethnic, and sexual identities. Mawal is the


This is a brilliant and revelatory first novel by a woman who is both an Arab and an American, who speaks with both voices and understands both worlds. Through the narratives of four cousins at the brink of maturity, Laila Halaby immerses her readers in the lives, friendships, and loves of girls struggling with national, ethnic, and sexual identities. Mawal is the stable one, living steeped in the security of Palestinian traditions in the West Bank. Hala is torn between two worlds-in love in Jordan, drawn back to the world she has come to love in Arizona. Khadija is terrified by the sexual freedom of her American friends, but scarred, both literally and figuratively, by her father's abusive behavior. Soraya is lost in trying to forge an acceptable life in a foreign yet familiar land, in love with her own uncle, and unable to navigate the fast culture of California youth. Interweaving their stories, allowing us to see each cousin from multiple points of view, Halaby creates a compelling and entirely original story, a window into the rich and complicated Arab world.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Four young women from Palestine and Jordan contend with issues of identity in this debut novel from Arab-American author Halaby. Hala, who has just finished high school in Arizona and intends to go to university, returns to Jordan to spend time with her dying grandmother. She finds herself at odds with her conservative older sister and her father, a traditional man much older than her independent mother, who died two years earlier. As she spends time in the country of her childhood, she forges a relationship with her older cousin, Sharif, and faces tough choices about her future. Hala's cousin Mawal has remained in the West Bank village of Nawara and leads a passive existence, living with her mother and listening to the many stories of villagers and relatives who have left for Jordan or the United States. In Los Angeles, two more cousins, Soraya and Khadija, attempt to integrate themselves into American life while facing prejudice and coping with their parents' traditional expectations; Soraya rebels with her sexuality, while Khadija faces a drunken and abusive father. The themes of choice and independence are very much at the forefront of the story, and much of the news revolves around loss: of homeland, of family, of traditions. Halaby's choice to alternate the narratives of the four young women offers real characterizations to latch onto, and her prose, often lyrical-particularly when the speakers relate other peoples' stories-deepens the complications of history and heritage. Contemplative and lush, this coming-of-age tale resonates with the challenges of cross-cultural life. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This debut introduces readers to the rich and complicated lives of four young cousins: Mawal, who dwells on the West Bank, and Hala, Khadija, and Soraya, who have immigrated to the western United States. With her mother, Mawal gathers and dispenses the often-sorrowful tales of her village, which adds even greater depth to the narrative. Meanwhile, her cousins are torn between the expectations of traditional Arab culture and their emerging identities as young Arab American women. Their stories often intermingle, but Halaby's greatest talent lies in meting out a unique perspective for each cousin. As she writes, she reveals not only the struggles required to fashion a bicultural identity but also the demands that maturity and autonomy place on young women regardless of their ethnicity or nationality. Her novel gives librarians an opportunity to expand their holdings of exceptional Arab American and Arab women writers who do not necessarily conform to existing stereotypes. Recommended for all collections.-Faye A. Chadwell, Univ. of Oregon Lib., Eugene Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-This title conveys familiar themes-culture clash and the individual identity crisis that it provokes, plus coming-of-age-but its Muslim protagonists are somewhat rare in Western contemporary literature. In alternating chapters, four female cousins-Mawal, in the West Bank village of Nawara; Hala, in Arizona; and Khadija and Soraya, in California-tell their stories. Their experiences range from the orthodoxy that imbues Mawal's life to the freedoms that her American relatives find both exhilarating and frightening. The author focuses on the difficulties facing Arab women wherever they live, but especially when trying to navigate the crosscurrents of parental and traditional mores while seeking acceptance and success in a foreign country. The extremes of the latter difficulties are represented by Soraya, who is the most Americanized, and by shy Khadija, who endures an angry father's abuse. Hala's story bridges the two cultures; during a visit to Jordan to see her dying grandmother, she develops strong feelings for a male cousin, forcing her to seriously consider her future. With the possible exception of Hala, Halaby provides neither answers nor tidy endings to her characters' dilemmas, thus showing that growing up is messy and difficult whatever the ethnicity or religion, but perhaps especially so for the first generation in a new land.-Dori DeSpain, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
Laila Halaby is a deeply gifted writer. She describes complicated, culture-spanning lives in a poetic prose that is clean and compelling. There is no glossing over pain here, but the power of telling-richly human voices and the redemption of honesty.—Naomi Shihab Nye, author of 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East

Product Details

Beacon Press
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Penguin Random House Publisher Services
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613 KB

Meet the Author

Laila Halaby was born in Beirut, Lebanon, to a Jordanian father and an American mother. She speaks four languages, won a Fulbright scholarship to study folklore in Jordan, and holds a master's degree in Arabic literature. Her first novel, West of the Jordan, won the prestigious PEN Beyond Margins Award. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her family.

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West of the Jordan: A Novel 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wonderful portrayal of life, culture, love, passion and suffering of the people of Palestinians and their lives as a displaced people!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It gave me such a perspectiv ethat I had not known before. It was enlightening and shows that thier is humanity in even those places in the world where the media tries to hide it! I want to me more of this caliber with this perspective.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Though there were interesting parts to the book, it just didn't hold my interest. It is rare for me to not finish a book but I finally just had to stop. It was difficult to keep track of who was who and the relationships to each other. Finally I just gave up trying. Not the most interesting read.