161. A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar
Publication: Other Press (September 2, 2008), ebook, 303pp / ISBN 1590512723
Genre: Fiction (GLBTQ, too)
Read: December 4-7, 2011
Summary from Amazon:
Nidali, the rebellious daughter of an Egyptian-Greek mother and a Palestinian father, narrates the story of her childhood in Kuwait, her teenage years in Egypt (to where she and her family fled the 1990 Iraqi invasion), and her family’s last flight to Texas. Nidali mixes humor with a sharp, loving portrait of an eccentric middle-class family, and this perspective keeps her buoyant through the hardships she encounters: the humiliation of going through a checkpoint on a visit to her father’s home in the West Bank; the fights with her father, who wants her to become a famous professor and stay away from boys; the end of her childhood as Iraq invades Kuwait on her thirteenth birthday; and the scare she gives her family when she runs away from home.
I was drawn towards buying this book mostly because of the cover. Isn’t it fab? And I think it fits the story well. This is a book that deals with things like parents who fight, being exiled from your country, coming of age, being half of one thing and half of another, remembering your family’s stories, and death and despair. But for all those sad things it’s still a very vibrant, exciting, and funny book. Not laugh-out-loud funny, necessarily, but funny in the way that life is funny if you have a sense of humor.
It’s not really a YA book, but I think it could work as one. It’s very descriptive about sex and things, but it’s not like that’s never been done before in YA, either. It actually reminds me of a more jagged, meant-for-an-older-audience The Whole Story of Half a Girl, mainly because the themes are the same. Nidali struggles with her biracial/bicultural heritage, with growing up, and with her relationships with her friends and her family. A Map of Home has a lot more stuff in it, though, and Nidali’s story isn’t the same as Sonia’s– the way Nidali solves her problems is completely different and less neatly tied up.
Coming of age books are actually some of my favorites, though I enjoy them much more with female protagonists for some reason. I think I actually read a blurb that said A Map of Home was like if Catcher in the Rye was set in the 1980s/early 1990s, starred a girl, and took place in Kuwait/Egypt/Texas. I didn’t like Catcher in the Rye1, but I can see the similarities there, too.
One of the best things about A Map of Home, besides the characters and their story, were the descriptions of the places Nidali lived. They’re not overly detailed, not like in some books where it seems like the author wants to drown you in adjectives, but they’re more like an outline of a place that doesn’t really exist now but once did. Like a mirage, almost. They’re beautiful descriptions, and they’re beautiful places, and they helped me get into the story.
Most of all, though, I liked how complex the stories and people in here are. I like that everything has layers, that emotions were presented as a complicated thing, that though Nidali does the best she can she’s not perfect. I like that over the course of the book the characters get more and more real, especially since at the beginning they were presented like actors in a play. And I really liked the writing, too, because it kept thing interesting even when it was only Nidali talking about riding a bicycle or something.
For all that I keep saying it’s a complex book, it’s not at all difficult to read, so don’t worry about that. If you like coming of age stories, especially ones set in unconventional places and starring unconventional people, then I think you’d like A Map of Home. I certainly did!
I wish Nidali was a bit more introspective, but it’s a good book nonetheless.
Have you reviewed this book on your blog? Let me know and I’ll link to it from here!
The author’s photo comes from Goodreads. It’s not mine! Book cover comes from Amazon. It’s not mine, either.
- or Holden, either. I like Nidali, though ↩