My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I read that each vignette was to be related to a food, I thought, This isn’t going to work; I’m going to be bored quickly. However, food was so important to Abu-Jaber’s father, his family, and culture, that it did work. I was soon caught up in the narrative and the organizing device slipped into the background. I would be reminded with each recipe, then it would again retreat.
I have read about first-generation dual-culture challenges, but this is the first second-generation memoir I have read. Not only the push-pull of old-country Vs. new-country values and expectations, but also parent expectations Vs. peer expectations added to the complexity of Diana’s growing up. In spite of narrating teen-ager frustration and rebellion, Abu-Jaber presents a sympathetic portrait of her father. Her mother, though mentioned less often, is still a dominant figure, also presented sympathetically.
Abu-Jaber’s descriptive language pulled me into the appeal of each culture, periods of confusion, times of identifying with where she was, and times of missing where she was not. Making the transition from living in New York state to Jordan, she describes her first ride through town: “The sidewalks are not like the orderly, straight-line sidewalks of our old neighborhood. Here, they wind around and roam this way and that, as if they’ve decided to go where they pleased.” On returning to a Jordanian city after visiting Bedouin relatives, she ponders ” . . . a larger, more formless question, something about whether people have to decide exactly who they are and where their home is. Do we have to know who we are once and for all? How many lives are we allowed?”
The book was well paced. I didn’t have any moments of “when will this end?” that sometimes occur about three quarters of the way through a memoir. It is not only a good read, but opens a necessary window on immigrant experience, on insights of identity formation, some of which are transferable to non-immigrants.