Ahlan wa sahlan!
Thank you for joining in with us in the Year of the Middle Eastern Reading Challenge (YMERC).
As promised, I will begin each month with:
- A book by a Middle Eastern author
- A graphic novel by a Middle Eastern author and/or Middle Eastern illustrator
- A new Arabic song to listen to throughout the month
At the end of each month, I’ll post:
- My reviews on the books and graphic novels of the month
- A Middle Eastern movie or TV show that I enjoyed that month
#YMERC Book of the Month
The Wrong End of the Table: A Mostly Comic Memoir of a Muslim Arab American Woman Just Trying to Fit in by Ayser Salman
You know that feeling of being at the wrong end of the table? Like you’re at a party but all the good stuff is happening out of earshot (#FOMO)? That’s life—especially for an immigrant.
What happens when a shy, awkward Arab girl with a weird name and an unfortunate propensity toward facial hair is uprooted from her comfortable (albeit fascist-regimed) homeland of Iraq and thrust into the cold, alien town of Columbus, Ohio—with its Egg McMuffins, Barbie dolls, and kids playing doctor everywhere you turned?
This is Ayser Salman’s story. First comes Emigration, then Naturalization, and finally Assimilation—trying to fit in among her blonde-haired, blue-eyed counterparts, and always feeling left out. On her journey to Americanhood, Ayser sees more naked butts at pre-kindergarten daycare that she would like, breaks one of her parents’ rules (“Thou shalt not participate as an actor in the school musical where a male cast member rests his head in thy lap”), and other things good Muslim Arab girls are not supposed to do. And, after the 9/11 attacks, she experiences the isolation of being a Muslim in her own country. It takes hours of therapy, fifty-five rounds of electrolysis, and some ill-advised romantic dalliances for Ayser to grow into a modern Arab American woman who embraces her cultural differences.
Part memoir and part how-not-to guide, The Wrong End of the Table is everything you wanted to know about Arabs but were afraid to ask, with chapters such as “Tattoos and Other National Security Risks,” “You Can’t Blame Everything on Your Period; Sometimes You’re Going to Be a Crazy Bitch: and Other Advice from Mom,” and even an open letter to Trump. This is the story of every American outsider on a path to find themselves in a country of beautiful diversity.
#YMERC Graphic Novel of the Month
Escape from Syria by Samya Kullab , Jackie Roche (Illustrations)
From the pen of former Lebanon Star reporter Samya Kullab comes a breathtaking and hard-hitting story of one family’s struggle to survive in the face of war, displacement, poverty and relocation.
Escape from Syria is a fictionalized account that calls on real-life circumstances and true tales of refugee families to serve as a microcosm of the Syrian uprising and the war and refugee crisis that followed.
The story spans six years in the lives of Walid, his wife Dalia, and their two children, Amina and Youssef. Forced to flee from Syria, they become asylum-seekers in Lebanon, and finally resettled refugees in the West. It is a story that has been replayed thousands of times by other families.
When the family home in Aleppo is destroyed by a government-led bomb strike, Walid has no choice but to take his wife and children and flee their war-torn and much loved homeland. They struggle to survive in the wretched refugee camps of Lebanon, and when Youssef becomes fatally ill as a result of the poor hygienic conditions, his father is forced to take great personal risk to save his family.
Walid’s daughter, the young Amina, a whip-smart grade-A student, tells the story. As she witnesses firsthand the harsh realities that her family must endure if they are to survive — swindling smugglers, treacherous ocean crossings, and jihadist militias — she is forced to grow up very quickly in order to help her parents and brother.
Kullab’s narrative masterfully maps both the collapse and destruction of Syria, and the real-life tragedies faced by its citizens still today. The family’s escape from their homeland makes for a harrowing tale, but with their safe arrival in the West it serves as a hopeful endnote to this ongoing worldwide crisis.
Beautiful illustrations by Jackie Roche — whose work on the viral web-comic, Syria’s Climate Conflict, was seen prominently in Symboliamag. com, Upworthy.com and Motherjones.com, among others — bring Kullab’s words to life in stunning imagery that captures both the horror of war and the dignity of human will.
#YMERC Arabic Song of the Month
Alf Leila We Leila by Umm Kulthum
Umm Kulthum** was an Egyptian singer, songwriter, and film actress active from the 1920s to the 1970s. She was given the honorific title Kawkab al-Sharq (كوكب الشرق, ‘Star of the East’).
Umm Kulthum was known for her vocal ability and unique style. She sold over 80 million records worldwide, making her one of the best-selling Middle Eastern singers of all time. She is considered a national icon in her native Egypt; she has been dubbed “The voice of Egypt” and “Egypt’s fourth pyramid”.
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*The beautiful blog graphic is done by liv_does.