About the Book
Laila Halaby's revelatory first novel weaves together the narratives of four cousins coming of age in America andPalestine. Through their moving stories, we gain insight into the lives of young women struggling to reconcile their identites, relationships, and independence with the cultural complexities of being Arab women. Hala, a student livingin Tuscon, struggles to choose between two worlds when she falls in love with an older man during a visit with her family in Jordan. Mawal, the only cousin who stays in Palestine, remains deeply attached to her family and her traditions. The defiant Soraya, living in Los Angeles, is involved in a physical relationship with her uncle and fightsincreasing depression and alienation. Khadija, terrified by the sexual freedom of her American friends and scarred bya traditional, strict, and often abusive relationship with her father, doesn't quite fit in with American teen culture. Theauthor herself is the daughter of a Jordanian father and an American mother and knows all too well the difficulties of reconciling Arab and American cultures.
West of the Jordan
movingly explores these difficulties and navigates themwithin the even more complex framework of the narrators' coming-of-age.
About the Author
Laila Halaby is the daughter of a Jordanian father and an American mother. Shespeaks four languages, won a Fulbright scholarship to study folklore in Jordan, andholds masters degrees in both Arabic literature and counseling. She lives with her family in Tucson, Arizona.
Questions for Discussion
1. Hala, Mawal, Khadija, and Soraya are greatly influenced by the women in their lives. They are the daughtersof four sisters, and the head of their family is their Bedouin grandmother, Maziuna (Sitti). How has thisaffected their stories?2. Mawal tells us that her family history "is what makes my mother pay attention to details and listen so well. Somany women come spill their secrets and their joys and their agonies because they know my mother
will keep them safely and do no more than stitch them into the fabric of our
." Hala, Khadija, andSoraya have all encountered tremendous pain during their lives. How do they cope with their grief? Do youthink they "stitch" it away? How does their culture affect the way they deal with their emotions?3. Hala says, "My mother knew Soraya when she was very young, and even then she said it was as thoughSoraya had been touched by something magical
in both a good and a bad sense. Her own mother,Maysoun, stopped trying to fight it, just showed her disappointment to everyone, even though it seemed asthough it came from within, and was not something that could be controlled" (p. 82). In what ways is Soraya"a new breed. A rebel" (p. 56)?4. "You would think our village was in love with America with all the people who have left, like America is thebest relative in the world that everyone has to visit. America is more like a greedy neighbor who takes thebest out of you and leaves you feeling empty," says Mawal. Do you think Mawal is jealous of her cousins?