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Reads for Arab American Heritage Month

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Reads for Arab American Heritage Month

arab american heritage reads

April is National Arab American Heritage Month, a time to commemorate Arab culture, and to recognize the contributions and experiences of the 2.1 million Arab Americans living in our country. Here are some new & notable fiction and nonfiction books written by and/or about Arab Americans that you can check out using your Livingston Library card. (Descriptions provided by the publishers.)

the unit

The Unit: My Life Fighting Terrorists as One of America’s Most Secret Military Operatives by Adam Gamal

The first and only book to ever be written by a member of America’s most secret military unit–an explosive and unlikely story of immigration, service, and sacrifice. Inside our military is a team of operators whose work is so secretive that the name of the unit itself is classified. Highly-trained in warfare, self-defense, infiltration, and deep surveillance, “the Unit,” as the Department of Defense has asked us to refer to it, has been responsible for preventing dozens of terrorist attacks in the Western world. Never before has a member of this unit shared their story – until now. From Adam Gamal, one of the only Muslim Arab Americans to serve inside “the Unit,” comes a gripping firsthand account of our nation’s most secretive military group. When Adam arrived in the United States at the age of nineteen, he spoke no English, and at 5’1″ and 112 pounds, he was far from what you might expect of a soldier. But compelled into service by a debt he felt he owed to his new country, he rose through the ranks of the military to become one of its most elite and skilled operators. With humor and humility, Adam shares stories of life-threatening injuries, of the camaraderie and capabilities of his team, of the incredible missions–but also of the growth he experienced as he learned to adhere to more moderate Islamic beliefs. Enthralling and eye-opening, The Unit is at once a gripping account of the fight against terror and an urgent examination of the need for diversity.

Dearborn: Stories by Ghassan Zeineddine

Spanning several decades, Ghassan Zeineddine’s debut collection examines the diverse range and complexities of the Arab American community in Dearborn, Michigan. In ten tragicomic stories, Zeineddine explores themes of identity, generational conflicts, war trauma, migration, sexuality, queerness, home and belonging, and more. In Dearborn, a father teaches his son how to cheat the IRS and hide their cash earnings inside of frozen chickens. Tensions heighten within a close-knit group of couples when a mysterious man begins to frequent the local gym pool, dressed in Speedos printed with nostalgic images of Lebanon. And a failed stage actor attempts to drive a young Lebanese man with ambitions of becoming a Hollywood action hero to LA, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have other plans. By turns wildly funny, incisive, and deeply moving, Dearborn introduces readers to an arresting new voice in contemporary fiction and invites us all to consider what it means to be part of a place and community, and how it is that we help one another survive.

Evil Eye by Etaf Rum

Raised in a conservative and emotionally volatile Palestinian family in Brooklyn, Yara thought she would finally feel free when she married a charming entrepreneur who took her to the suburbs. She’s gotten to follow her dreams, completing an undergraduate degree in Art and landing a good job at the local college. As a traditional wife, she also raises their two school-aged daughters, takes care of the house, and has dinner ready when her husband gets home. With her family balanced with her professional ambitions, Yara knows that her life is infinitely more rewarding than her own mother’s. So why doesn’t it feel like enough? After her dream of chaperoning a student trip to Europe evaporates and she responds to a colleague’s racist provocation, Yara is put on probation at work and must attend mandatory counseling to keep her position. Her mother blames a family curse for the trouble she’s facing, and while Yara doesn’t really believe in old superstitions, she still finds herself growing increasingly uneasy with her mother’s warning and the possibility of falling victim to the same mistakes. Shaken to the core by these indictments of her life, Yara finds her carefully constructed world beginning to implode. To save herself, Yara must reckon with the reality that the difficulties of the childhood she thought she left behind have very real, and damaging, implications not just on her own future but that of her daughters.

Between Two Moons by Aisha Abdel Gawad

A deeply moving family story about identity, faith, and belonging set in the Muslim immigrant enclave of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn following three siblings coming of age over the course of one Ramadan. It’s the holy month of Ramadan, and twin sisters Amira and Lina are about to graduate high school in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. On the precipice of adulthood, they plan to embark on a summer of teenage revelry, trying on new identities and testing the limits of what they can get away with while still under their parents’ roof. But the twins’ expectations of a summer of freedom collide with their older brother’s return from prison, whose mysterious behavior threatens to undo the delicate family balance. Meanwhile, outside the family’s apartment, a storm is brewing in Bay Ridge. A raid on a local business sparks a protest that brings the Arab community together, and a senseless act of violence threatens to tear them apart. Everyone’s motives are called into question as an alarming sense of disquiet pervades the neighborhood. With everything spiraling out of control, how will Amira and Lina know who they can trust? A gorgeously written, intimate family story and a polyphonic portrait of life under the specter of Islamophobia, Between Two Moons challenges the reader to interrogate their own assumptions, asking questions of allegiance to faith, family, and community, and what it means to be a young Muslim in America.

starstruck

Starstruck: A Memoir of Astrophysics and Finding Light in the Dark by Sarafina El-Badry Nance

In a beautifully written, science-packed, and inspirational memoir, Egyptian-American astrophysicist Sarafina El-Badry Nance shares how she boldly carved out a place in the field of astrophysics, grounding herself in a lifelong love of the stars to face life’s inevitable challenges and embrace the unknown.

Arabiyya: Recipes From the Life of an Arab in Diaspora by Reem Assil

Arabiyya celebrates the alluring aromas and flavors of Arab food and the welcoming spirit with which they are shared. Written from her point of view as an Arab in diaspora, Reem takes readers on a journey through her Palestinian and Syrian roots, showing how her heritage has inspired her recipes for flatbreads, dips, snacks, platters to share, and more. With a section specializing in breads of the Arab bakery, plus recipes for favorites such as Salatet Fattoush, Falafel Mahshi, Mujaddarra, and Hummus Bil Awarma, Arabiyya showcases the origins and evolution of Arab cuisine and opens up a whole new world of flavor.

Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America by Laila Lalami

The acclaimed, award-winning novelist–author of The Moor’s Account and The Other Americans–now gives us a bracingly personal work of nonfiction that is concerned with the experiences of “conditional citizens.” What does it mean to be American? In this starkly illuminating and impassioned book, Pulitzer Prize Finalist Laila Lalami recounts her unlikely journey from Moroccan immigrant to U.S. citizen, using it as a starting point for her exploration of the rights, liberties, and protections that are traditionally associated with American citizenship. Tapping into history, politics, and literature, she elucidates how accidents of birth–such as national origin, race, or gender–that once determined the boundaries of Americanness still cast their shadows today. Throughout the book, she poignantly illustrates how white supremacy survives through adaptation and legislation, with the result that a caste system is maintained, keeping the modern equivalent of white male landowners at the top of the social hierarchy. Conditional citizens, she argues, are all the people whom America embraces with one arm, and pushes away with the other. Brilliantly argued and deeply personal, Conditional Citizens weaves together the author’s own experiences with explorations of the place of nonwhites in the broader American culture.

You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat

A “provocative and seductive debut” of desire and doubleness that follows the life of a young Palestinian American woman caught between cultural, religious, and sexual identities as she tries to lead an authentic life (O, The Oprah Magazine). 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—from New York to Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine—Zaina Arafat’s debut novel traces her protagonist’s progress from blushing teen to sought-after DJ and aspiring writer. In Brooklyn, she moves into an apartment with her first serious girlfriend and tries to content herself with their comfortable relationship. But soon her longings, so closely hidden during her teenage years, explode out into reckless romantic encounters and obsessions with other people. Her desire to thwart her own destructive impulses will eventually lead her to The Ledge, an unconventional treatment center that identifies her affliction as “love addiction.” In this strange, enclosed society she will start to consider the unnerving similarities between her own internal traumas and divisions and those of the places that have formed her. 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.

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