cover image Arabian Jazz

Arabian Jazz

Diana Abu-Jaber. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $21.95 (374pp) ISBN 978-0-15-107862-2

This promising if uneven first novel focuses on a Jordanian widower and his grown daughters as they try to make a home for themselves in upstate New York. Struggling to locate their place in American culture, Matussem, Melvina and Jemorah also cope with Fatima, Matussem's meddlesome sister, who is forever trying to marry off her nieces. Abu-Jaber successfully depicts the family's anomie, the discomfort they feel both in their ancestral land and in the States. On the other hand, she shows just how Americanized they have become--Matussem moonlights as a jazz drummer (``The Big Band Sound of Mat Ramoud and the Ramoudettes''), the daughters congregate with co-workers at the bar Won Ton a Go-Go. The work falters, however, in unconvincing descriptions of Jem's semi-romantic involvements with a gas-station attendant and a big-talking mathematician/pool hustler. And at times the larger-than-life portrayal of Jordanian relatives clinging to ethnic customs borders on caricature. But Abu-Jaber's sobering, shocking revelations of the hardships long buried as family secrets in the Old Country serve as proof of her narrative powers. (June)