Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Map of Home

How many coming of age novels can our bookstores bear? Given the number published each year, the answer is apparently "limitless." Still, how can the reader choose which one to choose? Randa Jarrar's A Map of Home provides a number of reasons to put it on your reading pile.

Number one is the narrator. We've seen a wide range of narrators, but how about a Palestinian/Greek/Egyptian female? Nidali, named for an Arabic word for struggle, is born in the United States, grows up in Kuwait, flees the 1990 invasion via Iraq, moves to Egypt and ends up back in the United States.

Then there is the balance between humor and seriousness. Nidali's tale is told in a series of vignettes about her life. The first, about the day of her birth, is laugh out loud funny and shows that Jarrar is quite happy to work blue, a trait I always appreciate. She is just as capable of presenting subtle heartbreak. Her characters constantly uproot themselves and discard one set of dreams for another.

The overall theme of the stories is the notion of home. Is it geographic, cultural, personal? The characters wrestle with all of these and with the the home they never reach, Palestine. The characters have so many homes that all of them blend in to create a home in the head.

The language may be a bit salty at times for some readers (not me!) but I suspect that most will find this an engaging read.

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