An O, The Oprah Magazine LGBTQ Book That Will Change the Literary Landscape Next Year
A Literary Hub Most Anticipated Book of the Year
A Library Journal Title to Watch
"Jarrar is a propulsive writer and the pieces amassed here are chaotic and exuberant, defiant and introspective . . . Some essays retell events we’ve already read as if for the first time; some end with disorienting abruptness . . . Together, their effect is impressionistic but forceful, retracing the biography of a body whose identity and dignity have often been contested: Palestinian, fat, desirous and desired, once a site of violence and grief, now a site of pleasure and pride." —Jordan Kisner, The New York Times Book Review
“You haven't read this American road trip story before. Written during the Trump years, this memoir by Randa Jarrar, a queer Muslim Arab American woman, tackles systemic racism, domestic violence, sexuality, trauma, body image and more as it crisscrosses the country with plenty of humor and heart to break up the journey.” —Kathleen Rellihan, Newsweek
"Through the lens of a transformative cross-country road trip from California to Connecticut, Jarrar recounts her lifelong hunger for liberation from the forces of domestic violence, doxxing, and systemic racism . . . This visceral, unforgettable memoir is Jarrar’s barbaric yawp, asserting her triumphant choice to live joyfully in a hostile world." —Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire, A Best Book of the Year
"Hailed as a profound memoir for all ages, genders, and backgrounds, Jarrar’s words will speak to anyone who has felt erased, providing a sense of confidence to one day say: I am here. I am joyful." —Breanna Wilson, Forbes
"Step aside, Jack Kerouac: When it comes to great American road trip stories, we’re letting fat, queer, Muslim-Arab single mothers drive the car . . . Love Is an Ex-Country follows the author on her 2016 journey from California to her parents’ house in Connecticut, complete with pit stops to destroy wayward Confederate flags and reflect on traumatic childhood memories. The result is at once a scathing critique of American culture and a joyful celebration of life." —Keely Weiss, Harper's Bazaar, A Best LGBT Book of the Year
"Love Is an Ex-Country is not a road trip memoir so much as a profound meditation on race, borders, abuse, and above all, bodies. Everything is seen, felt, experienced through the lens of the body, and the reader will feel it in theirs, too." ––Sarah Neilson, Shondaland
"Jarrar, a single mother who was born in America but raised in Egypt for a spell, brings a fresh, critical perspective to the road narrative genre, which is largely dominated by white men. In the backyard of America, the proudly fat, queer, Muslim and Arab American protagonist dredges up personal demons she triumphed over, and unaired grievances from America’s checkered past. —Connor Godwin, The Seattle Times
"Funny, fierce, and full of joy and pain, Randa Jarrar's memoir chronicles her 2016 road trip across America, as she drives from her home in California to her parents' home in Connecticut. Her encounters along the way—from Tinder hookups to encounters with racist truck-drivers—serve as catalysts for Jarrar to explore everything from her identity as a queer Palestinian-American to her experiences with domestic violence and bigotry. There is catharsis in reading Jarrar's words, they feel alternately like howls and whispers, an impassioned, necessary response to what it means to live in America today." ––Kristin Iversen, Refinery29, One of the Best New Books of the Year
"Jarrar’s story is most strikingly about the liberating power of joy and emerging triumphant after so much grief—including the Palestinian wound of displacement she carries in her body. She then blazes forth to make her Palestinian Egyptian body at home in a land that tries to marginalize and silence her at every turn. Every page is burnished with a fearless love that readers can’t help but feel in their bones, written as these essays are from the depths of her 'happy fat Arab heart.'” —Madhuri Sastry, Bitch
"Egyptian, Palestinian, and American writer Randa Jarrar’s memoir is framed through the story of a road trip she took ahead of the 2016 election, inspired by Egyptian dancer and actress Tahia Carioca. Hers is at once an American story and the story of the Palestinian diaspora. Jarrar writes about heavy topics—domestic assault, detainment in Israel, doxxing, and more—yet her writing remains infused with joy and survival." ––Alma, A Favorite Book for Winter
"Jarrar [positions] herself both as a critic and as a participant in the conversation about which stories, and whose, receive exposure. It’s a vivid and necessary point of view." ––David L. Ulin, Alta
"[Through] her intimate look at how she’s moved past abuse, Jarrar stakes out a radical approach to self and citizenship, one that hinges not on someone else’s approving judgment but on her own self-love . . . Reimagining citizenship as beyond the reach of hostile judges isn’t a new idea. Indigenous and Black writers, especially, have been doing it for centuries. But Jarrar takes this kind of reimagining to new places by keenly chronicling the everyday ways that the unhealed wounds of abuse can bind even her most mundane bodily movements as an Egyptian, Palestinian, queer, fat, femme, Muslim, Arab American." — Leila Mansouri, The Believer
"Among nonfiction road trip books, Love Is an Ex-Country is vital for showing how travel in the United States functions very differently depending on what you look like . . . A brazen book that doles out plentiful laughs along with copious tears." —Isabelle Popp, Book Riot
Jarrar (A Map of Home), who self-identifies as fat and queer, writes about her experiences as an Arab American with an itinerant childhood. Her father was abusive and when Jarrar seeks help from the police as a teenager, she is informed that filing a complaint will jeopardize her father's immigration status. Lacking recourse to protect herself, she married young. Her husband was also abusive and controlling; when Jarrar becomes pregnant, he coerces her into keeping the child. When the marriage implodes, Jarrar is left to raise her son on her own. Although billed as a memoir of a road trip the author took from California to Connecticut, the book is so scattershot that this narrative backbone is almost entirely incidental, if not absent. Jarrar jumps back and forth in time and situation, from one country to another. Her immersion in the S&M community helped her overcome self-image issues and reassert control in her life and relationships. Throughout the book, many of her divulgences about her sexual life seem lurid rather than germane or revelatory. VERDICT Readers interested in the queer Arab American experience may be better served by Samra Habib's We Have Always Been Here. Recommended for fans of the author's previous work.—Barrie Olmstead, Lewiston P.L., ID
A Palestinian American writer and creative writing professor transforms a road trip into an occasion for reflections about her identity and past.
In 2016, Jarrar drove cross-country from California to her parents’ home in Connecticut. The author's journey becomes the framework and context for a memoir in essays that discusses details of that trip and delves sharply into issues of race, gender and sexuality, trauma, and female embodiment. The first noteworthy incident took place in Arizona, where Jarrar encountered a White female trucker who likened her fellow Syrian-born drivers to monkeys. The confrontation angered the author for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it revealed how she was not recognized by the woman as Arab; and how being Arab in the U.S. meant being “silenced, erased, demonized, vilified, and monstrosized.” Later on, Jarrar expressed her indignation and outrage by destroying a symbol of American racism—the Confederate flag—discovered by chance in a small thrift store. At the same time, the trip proved liberating, as the author reveled in her freedom and sexuality with Tinder matches and barroom flirtations. But as she celebrated her plus-sized body and the confidence that came from rejecting "mainstream beauty standards,” she also remembered her adolescence, when her body seemed to be “punishing me, rebelling against me.” She chronicles how she was abused by her father and, later, her son’s father. The author reveals how experimentation with “kinky” sex helped her work through the pain and other powerful emotions caused by patriarchal violence. “Sexuality, pain, love, obedience, hurt: all are woven together in the loom that is my body, that is my skin and my heart,” she writes, as she also describes how Parkinson's changed her father from a "bully" into a painfully weakened man. Though individually compelling, these viscerally eloquent essays don’t always cohere as a unified whole. Nonetheless, Jarrar makes a significant statement about self-acceptance while celebrating the complexity of intersecting identities.
An intimately edgy text well suited for reading in pieces.