Without borders

During a writer's conference, I met a lady who said she was fascinated by the culture of the Middle East. She insisted I should read a book titled Crescent, by Diana Abu-Jaber.

“What makes you think I'd like it?” I asked.

“The similarity of your cultures.”

She was a nice woman and we took many classes together. I didn't want to get into an old argument but, deep down, I felt disappointed that even a more educated American didn't see the difference between Iranians and Arabs. Soon the matter was forgotten.

A couple of weeks ago, as I browsed around my favorite little bookstore, the book grabbed my attention. I turned it over and read the blurbs. The reviews were impressive. I bought a copy and thought I would read it at some point.

That evening, as I read the first couple of pages, I was hooked. It began with a scene of the Iran-Iraq war through the eyes of an Iraqui child and moved on to Westwood, California where an Arab feels dominated by the Iranian crowd. That alone interested me enough, so I continued to read.

Among the American contemporary authors, there are masters such as Margaret Atwood, John Irving, Patrick Conroy and many more. We all have our favorites and there's never a shortage of reading material. Then there are numerous writers who are either not well known, or have gained their fame through what I like to refer to as 'supply and demand.'

By this I mean those authors who may not necessarily write with an exceptional style, but have interesting stories to tell and many followers among readers who pick up a book for amusement. Once in a while, I am thrilled to find a rare book from a new author.

I was not familiar with Diana Abu-Jaber, but wish to thank the lady who recommended this fine book. Mis. Abu-Jaber is a Jordanian-American who, holding a PhD in creative writing, teaches at the Portland State University, Oregon. No doubt, she has followed all the rules she teaches in her class. I doubt if even a picky editor could find fault in her prose.

The storyline is fascinating enough, but it is Abu-Jaber's unique style that sets this book apart from many others. She combines culinary delights, Arabic words and sensuality to create her delightful art.

As an Iranian, I had no particular interest in the Iraqi culture. Yes, I had felt sorry for the victims of both their recent wars and the nation's misfortunes. But with the brutal attacks of Saddam Hussein on my homeland, followed by the Iranian's natural resentment of what Arabs had done to us through the history, I had lost interest in knowing more. Yet, here is a fine example of an author's artistic manipulation that can change a reader's mind, at least while reading the words.

Not only did I see the deep beauty of the Arab culture, I became close enough to them that their sorrow became mine throughout the book. I even had an out-of-body experience and, for a few seconds, saw the ugly Iranian in me. Not to the point of hurting my pride, but enough to be reminded of Saadi's words, “Humans are parts of the same body…”

I give the book five stars. This is a must read for all those who love a good literary novel and those who can put prejudice aside and look beyond the man-made borders.

As for those who can't, I have a feeling they've already skipped this article!

Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a freelance writer, poet and artist. She lives in San Diego, California.

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