WEST OF THE JORDAN

Laila Halaby, Author . Beacon $13 (188p) ISBN 978-0-8070-8359-8

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)

Reviewed on: 04/07/2003
Release date: 06/01/2003
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 121 pages - 978-0-8070-9694-9
Prebound-Sewn - 978-0-606-31110-6
Prebound-Glued - 220 pages - 978-1-4176-5773-5
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