There's a Book for That: National Arab American Heritage Month
Welcome National Arab American Heritage Month! On March 31st, 2023 President Joe Biden issued an historic proclamation recognizing April as National Arab American Heritage Month: “This month, we join together to celebrate the immeasurable contributions of Arab Americans to our Nation and recommit ourselves to the timeless work of making sure that all people have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.” In honor of the occasion we invite you to discover the following new and acclaimed novels and memoirs by and about Arab Americans:
THE SKIN AND ITS GIRL: A NOVEL by Sarah Cypher
A young, queer Palestinian American woman pieces together her great aunt’s secrets in this sweeping debut, a family saga confronting questions of sexual identity, exile, and lineage.
LOVE IS AN EX-COUNTRY: A MEMOIR by Randa Jarrar
Queer. Muslim. Arab American. A proudly Fat woman. Randa Jarrar is all of these things. In this “exuberant, defiant and introspective” memoir of a cross-country road trip, she explores how to claim joy in an unraveling and hostile America (The New York Times Book Review). Hailed as “one of the finest writers of her generation” by Laila Lalami, Jarrar delivers a euphoric and critical, funny and profound memoir that will speak to anyone who has felt erased, asserting: I am here. I am joyful.
I WAS THEIR AMERICAN DREAM: A GRAPHIC MEMOIR by Malaka Gharib
WINNER OF THE ARAB AMERICAN BOOK AWARD
I Was Their American Dream is at once a coming-of-age story and a reminder of the thousands of immigrants who come to America in search for a better life for themselves and their children. The daughter of parents with unfulfilled dreams themselves, Malaka navigated her childhood chasing her parents’ ideals, learning to code-switch between her family’s Filipino and Egyptian customs, adapting to white culture to fit in, crushing on skater boys, and trying to understand the tension between holding onto cultural values and trying to be an all-American kid.
IT WON’T ALWAYS BE LIKE THIS: A GRAPHIC MEMOIR by Malaka Gharib
An intimate graphic memoir about an American girl growing up with her Egyptian father’s new family, forging unexpected bonds and navigating adolescence in an unfamiliar country—from the award-winning author of I Was Their American Dream. It Won’t Always Be Like This is a touching time capsule of Gharib’s childhood memories—each summer a fleeting moment in time—and a powerful reflection on identity, relationships, values, family, and what happens when it all collides.
HOME IS NOT A COUNTRY by Safia Elhillo
From the acclaimed poet featured on Forbes Africa’s “30 Under 30” list, this powerful novel-in-verse captures one girl, caught between cultures, on an unexpected journey to face the ephemeral girl she might have been. Woven through with moments of lyrical beauty, this is a tender meditation on family, belonging, and home.
YOU EXIST TOO MUCH: A NOVEL by Zaina Arafat
On a hot day in Bethlehem, a 12–year–old Palestinian–American girl is yelled at by a group of men outside the Church of the Nativity. She has exposed her legs in a biblical city, an act they deem forbidden, and their judgement will echo on through her adolescence. When our narrator finally admits to her mother that she is queer, her mother’s response only intensifies a sense of shame: “You exist too much,” she tells her daughter. Told in vignettes that flash between the U.S. and the Middle East—Zaina Arafat’s debut novel traces her protagonist’s progress from blushing teen to sought–after DJ and aspiring writer. Opening up the fantasies and desires of one young woman caught between cultural, religious, and sexual identities, You Exist Too Much is a captivating story charting two of our most intense longings—for love, and a place to call home.
A PURE HEART: A NOVEL by Rajia Hassib
Rich in depth and feeling, A Pure Heart is a brilliant portrait of two Muslim women in the twenty-first century and the decisions they make in work and love that determine their destinies. As Rose is struggling to reconcile her identities as an Egyptian and as a new American, she investigates Gameela’s devotion to her religion and her country. The more Rose uncovers about her sister’s life, the more she must reconcile their two fates, their inextricable bond as sisters, and who should and should not be held responsible for Gameela’s death.
THE OTHER AMERICANS: A NOVEL by Laila Lalami
Late one spring night in California, Driss Guerraoui—father, husband, business owner, Moroccan immigrant—is hit and killed by a speeding car. The aftermath of his death brings together a diverse cast of characters who—deeply divided by race, religion, and class—tell their stories, each in their own voice. Connections among them emerge. Timely, riveting, and unforgettable, The Other Americans is at once a family saga, a murder mystery, and a love story informed by the treacherous fault lines of American culture.
AMERICAN WAR: A NOVEL by Omar El Akkad
A second American Civil War, a devastating plague, and one family caught deep in the middle—this gripping debut novel asks what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself. From the author of What Strange Paradise
The daughter of the famous intellectual and outspoken Palestinian advocate Edward Said and a sophisticated Lebanese mother, Najla Said grew up in New York City, confused and conflicted about her cultural background and identity. Said knew that her parents identified deeply with their homelands, but growing up in a Manhattan world that was defined largely by class and conformity, she felt unsure about who she was supposed to be… She may have been born a Palestinian Lebanese American, but Said denied her true roots, even to herself—until, ultimately, the psychological toll of her self-hatred began to threaten her health. Today she is a voice for second-generation Arab Americans nationwide.
THE BOOK OF KHALID by Ameen Rihani
This long-awaited re-publication of the first Arab-American novel—inspiration for Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet—deals with Arab/American relations, religious conflict and the American immigrant experience. Told with great good humor and worldly compassion, and with illustrations by Kahlil Gibran, The Book of Khalid recounts the adventures of two young men, Khalid and Shakib, who leave Lebanon for the United States to seek their fortune in turn-of-the century New York. Together, they face all the difficulties of poor immigrants—the passage by ship, admittance through Ellis Island and the rough immigrant life. Khalid, always the dreamer, tries to participate in the political and cultural life of the teeming city—to often humiliating and comic result.
Visit the Arab American Foundation for more information.
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