Jehanne Moharram

Though reading Between Two Worlds: Escaping from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam is a sometimes painful experience, this memoir of a daughter's coming to terms with her parents' decades-long high-wire act as unwilling members of Saddam Hussein's inner circle is also the author's hopeful vision, both for her own life and for the future of her native country.

Zainab Salbi was raised in a comfortable upper-middle-class Shi'a household in Baghdad. Her family's liberal, westernized way of life, the norm among Iraqi elite, was rudely intruded upon by a leader who came to power just as Salbi's childhood was coming to an end. Saddam Hussein, seemingly frustrated by his humble origins, attempted to worm his way into the upper echelons of Baghdadi society. Salbi recounts his influence on those he forcibly drew near him, and the terrible fate of those who dared to resist, giving us a unique glimpse inside his rule of terror. Salbi's woes worsened once her father was tapped to be Saddam's personal pilot, marking her for fear and resentment by the rest of Iraqi society as one of "Saddam's friends." Not surprisingly, the threat of murder, imprisonment and deportation that hung over her parents' heads slowly changed them from a fun-loving apolitical couple into a feuding husband and wife, torn between staying and leaving. Desperate to save her daughter, Salbi's mother arranged for her daughter's marriage to an Iraqi immigrant in the U.S., only to unwittingly land her in the arms of an abusive husband. Salbi's story of her second escape, of the founding of the war victims' charity Women for Women Inter-national, and of finally coming to terms with her parents' own stories before her mother's death, form a remarkable tale of emotional and mental resilience. Jehanne Moharram was born in the same year as Zainab Salbi, a few hundred miles south of Baghdad, in Kuwait. She now writes from Virginia.

 

Though reading Between Two Worlds: Escaping from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam is a sometimes painful experience, this memoir of a daughter's coming to terms with her parents' decades-long high-wire act as unwilling members of Saddam Hussein's inner circle is also the author's hopeful vision, both for her own life and for […]

In an increasingly interconnected world, the mixing of cultures should no longer come as a surprise. So it is refreshing when an author comes along who can showcase an intriguing new combination. Writer Marsha Mehran escaped the religious revolution in Iran as a child and traveled with her family to Argentina, Florida and Australia before following her heart to New York and Ireland. She underpinned this dizzying array of cultural experiences with a love of her native Persian cuisine. The first literary result of her wanderings is an enchanting tale of three sisters struggling to make a new life for themselves in the Emerald Isle.

Pomegranate Soup is a wonderful treat, a flavorful, rich little dish that does not weigh one down. Touches of magical realism abound: people exude scents of cinnamon and rosewater, onions cook in tightly clenched fists and drops of blood bloom into full-blown roses. Mehran has an unerring eye for detail, and she applies it well to her description of the three sisters: Marjan, the eldest, nurturing and responsible; Bahar, the middle sister, nervous and tortured with memories of the past; and Layla, the youngest, a luminously beautiful teenager who transcends the narrow confines of both cultures. Fortune lands them in the village of Ballinacroagh which, sheltered in the lea of a holy mountain regularly visited by pious pilgrims, is unprepared for the exotic aromas wafting out of the newly opened Babylon CafŽ. But the villagers' initial mistrust is soon overcome; the vicious gossip, if not silenced, is ignored; and the sisters find allies among the town's colorful residents. Their success, however, is soon threatened by a shadow from the past and a threat from the present, driving them to desperation. Cruelty and greed do not recognize national borders. But luckily, neither does love.

As a beguiling extra, recipes for such delicacies as lavash bread, chelow rice, and fesenjoon, a chicken dish made with walnuts and pomegranate paste, are scattered throughout the book, tempting the adventurous to try their hand. Even non-cooks, though, will be beguiled by Pomegranate Soup‘s zest for life. Jehanne Moharram grew up in the Middle East and now writes from Virginia.

In an increasingly interconnected world, the mixing of cultures should no longer come as a surprise. So it is refreshing when an author comes along who can showcase an intriguing new combination. Writer Marsha Mehran escaped the religious revolution in Iran as a child and traveled with her family to Argentina, Florida and Australia before […]

Growing up is hard enough without the added conflicts of different cultures and warring parents. But that's exactly what Jasira, the 13-year-old Arab-American heroine and narrator of Towelhead, has to contend with. Alicia Erian's first novel is raw, sexually frank and pulls no punches. Jasira lives with her mother, until the day her mother decides that her boyfriend is paying far too much attention to her budding daughter. But this is no modern-day Lolita. Jasira is more like a 21st-century female version of Holden Caulfield: innocent, sexually alive, naive, stubborn, intelligent and curious. She is promptly packed off to live with her Lebanese-born father in the deceptively quiet suburbs of Houston. There she attempts, with sometimes disastrous, sometimes humorous and sometimes heartbreaking results, to find her way to a true sense of her own self.

Jasira arrives in Texas in the fall of 1990, just as Saddam invades Kuwait, and just in time to face her schoolmates' taunts of "towelhead" and other racial slurs. Her next-door neighbor, an Army reservist whose son she baby-sits, is torn between his contempt for her Arab father and his intense attraction to Jasira herself. Her father, a strict and uncommunicative man, cannot handle the ramifications of his daughter's puberty, and responds with the back of his hand. Lonely and confused, Jasira looks for solace elsewhere. She finds it both with those who would abuse her innocence, and with kinder folk. Despite minimum parental help, she eventually learns to tell the difference between the two.

Erian's own background is mixed: her father is Egyptian and her mother Polish. Her previous book, a collection of short stories called The Brutal Language of Love, won rave reviews. Towelhead has been optioned by American Beauty writer Alan Ball. It is a tale simply told, in straightforward language, about age-old truths that are anything but simple.

Jehanne Moharram grew up in the Middle East and now writes from Virginia.

 

Growing up is hard enough without the added conflicts of different cultures and warring parents. But that's exactly what Jasira, the 13-year-old Arab-American heroine and narrator of Towelhead, has to contend with. Alicia Erian's first novel is raw, sexually frank and pulls no punches. Jasira lives with her mother, until the day her mother decides […]

It is the view of every generation that they live in uncertain times, and the present era is no exception. In choosing the practice of alchemy, the science and art of transformation, as a central theme of his first novel, journalist Jon Fasman seems intent on showing us how slippery and perhaps even illusory the truths and certainty we search for may be.

Reading The Geographer's Library is like stepping into a sepia-toned daguerreotype: the past here holds all the clues. The novel's narrator is Paul Tomm, a young, sometimes painfully naive cub reporter coasting along at a weekly newspaper in a sleepy New England town. When a professor at his alma mater dies in mysterious circumstances, the reporter's research for a routine obituary leads him into an unimaginably poisonous labyrinth.

This mystery's path is littered with forged passports, ghastly murders, discarded identities and newly minted lives. The present-day narrative is interspersed with chapters telling the forgotten history of various occult objects: how they were lost, scattered and once again collected (to turn up in Connecticut), often at the cost of human lives. The purpose of this collection is nothing less than the ultimate goal of alchemy: to discover the secret of life.

The story spans nine centuries and several continents, returning again and again to the vast expanses of Central Asia and the turbulence left in the wake of the crumbled Soviet Union. The geographer of the title was banished from none other than Baghdad, and the novel's visits to places currently in the public eye add to its intrigue. Ultimately, although the novel does not follow Paul's growth into the next stage of his life, we are left with the thought that it is the process of transformation itself that counts.

Jehanne Moharram grew up in the Middle East and now writes from Virginia.

It is the view of every generation that they live in uncertain times, and the present era is no exception. In choosing the practice of alchemy, the science and art of transformation, as a central theme of his first novel, journalist Jon Fasman seems intent on showing us how slippery and perhaps even illusory the […]

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