DANCING ARABS

Sayed Kashua, Author, Miriam Shlesinger, Translator , trans. from the Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger. Grove $12 (227p) ISBN 978-0-8021-4126-2

Kashua resists stereotype in this slyly subversive, semi-autobiographical account of Arab Israeli life, telling the story of a Palestinian boy who wins a prestigious scholarship to a Jewish high school, but slips into listless malaise as an adult, despising himself, scorning his fellow Arabs and resenting the Israelis. The unnamed narrator spends his childhood in the village of Tira. His grandfather was killed in the 1948 war, and his father was jailed for two years before he was married, accused of blowing up a university cafeteria. The narrator doesn't inherit his father's revolutionary tendencies; he's even ignorant of his own history ("In twelfth grade I understood for the first time what '48 was.... Suddenly I understood that Zionism is an ideology. In civics lessons and Jewish history classes, I started to understand that my aunt from Tulkarm is called a refugee, that the Arabs in Israel are called a minority"). When he goes away to the Jewish boarding school, his greatest desire is to fit in, and he bursts into tears the first time he is stopped at a checkpoint. He never finishes college, taking low-level jobs at an institution for the retarded and a bar. When he finally drifts into marriage to an Arab nursing student, he cringes at her dark skin and soon dreams about taking a lover. He can't even find solace in belief, though he fantasizes about becoming a respected teacher of religion. The drab hopelessness of his life is offset by his self-awareness ("I'm a failure anyway") and by Kashua's deadpan, understated humor. Nearly absurdist at moments, this is a chilling, convincing tale. Agent, Deborah Harris at the Harris/Elon Agency . (May)

Reviewed on: 05/03/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
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