Arabs: Their sorrow became mine
August 31, 2004
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
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
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
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
Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a freelance
poet and artist. She lives in San Diego, California.