Book of the month: Diana Abu-Jaber’s Arabian Jazz
I’m tired of fighting it out here, I don’t have much idea of what it is to be Arab, but that’s what the family is always saying we are. I want to know what part of me is Arab. I haven’t figured out what part our mother is, either. It’s like she abandoned us, left us alone to work it all out.
Our book recommendation of the month is Diana Abu-Jaber’s Arabian Jazz, her first published and remarkable contemporary Arab-American debut novel. Issued in 1993, this amusing novel explores Abu-Jaber’s self-identity and background through her relatives. Matuseem, the Jordanian father, widower and Jazz drummer annoyed by his sister Fatima, the typical Arabic aunt who is obsessed with seeing her nieces marrying Arab men. Melvina is dedicated to her job as a nurse, whereas Jemorah, who is nearly turning thirty, questions her identity.
The novel is divided into thirty-nine chapters where the protagonist Jemorah Ramoud struggled the most with her sense of self. She lost her mother Nora, who was white, at the age of three on a trip to Jordan, and was bewildered by her father’s close relations with his relatives who lived in Syracuse’s Arab community. Jemorah never understood the traditional Arab customs, and she always felt pressured to live up to them. For instance, when her aunt Fatima heard that she was turning thirty soon, she made a big fuss about it insomuch so she became the main topic of her Arab relatives’ gossip.
Abu-Jaber’s humour throughout the novel also covers many serious and vital issues. Namely the clash between the past and present, between the ways it’s done in the “Old” country and the lifestyle in the “New” one. Abu-Jaber’s central focus is on Jemorah’s dual allegiance, as she is pulled by traditional Arab culture and modern American culture.
As an Arab-American herself, Abu-Jaber is a daughter of both cultures just like Jemorah and Melvina. Her father might even represent Matuseem, who does not agree with Fatima’s traditional views of women. No more spoilers, this novel was absolutely relishing, eye opening, hilarious at times, and baffling at others. I would highly recommend reading it.
Abu-Jaber, Diana1993. Arabian Jazz. Harcourt ed.