Set in Atlanta, Middle South, the debut novel of Maya Nessouli Abboushi, was said to examine the cultural differences experienced by Arabs living in the southern United States. I expected to be informed and enlightened. I was disappointed. There were a few brief mentions of different customs, but nothing of importance.
The book was mostly the silly drinking, smoking, clubbing lifestyle of Layla, a juvenile 26-year-old, and her equally juvenile friends. Layla and her roommate, Jess, are constantly searching for “the one”, and constantly being disappointed. Then there is Layla’s mom, who calls her multiple times each day to be sure she is safe, reminds her not to let any man touch her, and constantly sets her up to meet her friends’ sons, grandsons, and nephews.
It was not until the last few chapters that I began to learn more about the experiences with cultural differences. Some examples are the fact that most young couples do not announce their dates to their families until an engagement is near, the fact that Lebanon was a true hotspot for vacations before the civil war that threatened to destroy the country. There is also the fact that being under constant threat of bombings has desensitized the people to the threats — they simply go about their lives as if nothing were wrong. Layla noticed the differences in how Americans rush through a meal in order to get to their next activity, while in Lebanon, the meal is the great attraction, and can take much longer to complete. Most saddening was learning that the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri, who tried to put Lebanon back together, led to massive political demonstrations, and was key to Syria going into Lebanon and re-starting tension between Muslims and Christians.
Until I reached the last few chapters, it was a struggle to finish reading this book. Perhaps if I were an 18-to-25-year-old, I may have enjoyed it more. I was pleased at the end, to see Layla happy.
What Makes This Book Reviewer Grumpy?
The usual things:
- improper placement of the word “only” within sentences;
- the repeated use of the conjunction “and” to begin sentences.