This is a fantastic book and Randa Jarrar is a fantastic writer. That’s what I kept thinking the further and further I delved into this coming-of-age tale. Though it may seem like a typical “coming-of-age” tale on the surface, “A Map of Home” is much deeper than that. While it’s true that we follow the life of “Nadali” (from the Arabic “My Struggle”) we are equally taken along the path of her parents - two somewhat eccentric characters, both of them artists, for whom history had dealt a serious blow.
It is Nadali’s voice we follow through the entire tale - from her relating the story of her birth in a Boston hospital to her family life in Kuwait until the start of the Gulf War, their flight to Palestine, then on to Egypt before finally settling in Texas. Nadali’s “voice” is what carries the story - a rebellious young woman in search of her place in the world and her own identity amidst cultural conflicts and an abusive, strict, father. We watch her grow from a pre-pubescent through her college years and how not only the differing cultures she lived in that made her feel like an outsider, but also the differing values of her parents and grandparents. All of this could very well be a metaphor for the Arab world as a whole - where the conflict between tradition and modernity is still much an issue in the Middle East.
But I couldn’t help get the feeling that this story wasn’t Nadali’s alone. It is equally the story of her parents and by extension, the older generation and how much they had to struggle and sacrifice due to historical circumstances beyond their control. Politics is in the background here but it isn’t preachy or shouting from the soapbox. It is revealed through the stories of Nadali’s parent’s younger years as well as the stories related to her by her grandparents - this feeling of feeling “home” always in question due to war and colonialism. And there’s just a hint of the multi-cultural world that Alexandria had once been, where Egyptians and Greeks shared the city and intermingled in one another’s lives. It is a story about family and hardship and the struggle to hold it together through so much turmoil while a younger generation struggles to maintain connections with their traditions as well as becoming independent and having a mind and life of their own.
The prose style and dialogue are sharp, immensely readable, and quite often laugh out loud hysterical. There is a healthy dose of humor in this book, as seen through the eyes of the precocious young Nadali. There are also many literary references here that will now doubt please a more “literary” reader.
There are very touching moments here as well as explorations into the very complex nature of parenthood and childhood are examined throughout the whole story. This is a book that will have you thinking for a long time after reading it and Jarrar is an immensely talented writer whose future bodes well. Highly recommended.