Book of the month: Susan M. Darraj’s The Inheritance of Exile: Stories from South Philly
I became angry too, when the alarm sounded, because nobody seemed upset, not even Mr. Emmitt. And I was angry because I had been promised by Mama, on the airplane to Philadelphia, as I violently chewed gum the stewardess had given me to keep my ears from bursting, that we would be safe in our new home. And look what was happening, on my very first day! So I decided to save myself. I wouldn’t be killed with a smile on my face like these fools. When you grow up in the camps and you see what I used to see— when you have a friend you tell your secrets to, and then a missile lands on her home, or the soldiers drag her into the shrubs as she walks home from school, then what? Then you learn to survive. Do you know this word, survive? (191)
Our book recommendation of the month is Susan M. Darraj’s The Inheritance of Exile: Stories from South Philly, a fiction novel that unfolds the stories and the intertwined struggles of four Arab American women in the American city of Philadelphia. Nadia, Aliyah, Hanan and Reema grapple with finding a sense of home whilst being stuck in the cultural slit that exists between the Middle East and the United States. As daughters of Palestinian immigrants who were born in South Philly, each struggles to bring together her Arab identity with her American one.
The novel is divided into four chapters, from Nadia’s story, Aliyah’s story, Hanan’s story to Reema’s story. These four Arab American women adopted and adapted to the American culture. For instance, when it came to the American fashion trend, they wore ripped jeans and got piercings and that certainly did not please their Arab moms as they wanted them to “look respectable, and not like they live on the streets” (58). Therefore, the cultural clash affected their relationships with their mothers since their way of thinking and living were tremendously divergent. What I found intriguing is the major difference between their new life in America and their mom’s lives back in Palestine or Jerusalem. Their moms were still traumatized and haunted by their memories of the war. They were constantly reminded of it, the camps, and their long lost home which made it hard for them to fit in and to succumb to the American culture. Whereas, their daughters did not know what it was like to be an Arab, let alone the traditions. I believe that this gap will always exist unless both parties try to compromise and put themselves in each other’s shoes or at least try to understand where they come from.
I definitely enjoyed reading this fully engaging collection of stories, as it was overwhelmingly powerful, humorous at times, and moving at others. It did give a unique portrayal of the life of exiles in America. I highly recommend reading it.
Muaddi Darraj, Susan 2007. The Inheritance of Exile: Stories from South Philly. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.