Tag Archives: Riverhead Hardcover

Book Review: Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family by Najla Said

Looking for Palestine Title: Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family
Author: Najla Said
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
ISBN: 9781594487088
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It must not be easy being torn between cultures. To also live through them and find an identity of your own cannot be easy. Najla Said, the daughter of a prominent Palestinian Father and a Lebanese mother did not have it easy. I somehow love stories about conflicts when it comes to identity and culture. I like the revelation and how did it all end for the person narrating his or her life.

“Looking for Palestine” is Najla’s account of her life – growing up in Manhattan, living with strong parents – not to forget Edward Said and his opinions on she should be brought up. She then decided to see her identity for herself and what she stood for besides being a Jew and living in times which are volatile and ever-changing.

The book is about Najla’s experiences – growing up in her father’s shadow and for the longest time trying to find her own voice. She did not want to be just another Jew. She took marked steps to separate herself from her heritage and in the end she ended up finding herself in her culture and roots.

Najla Said’s writing is marvellous. It is full of irony, heartfelt moments and about how life is conflicting at almost every single step. The book is about her personal struggles and bittersweet to a very large extent, which I love in a memoir. It cannot all be sugary. Nor it can be all bitter and dark. There has to be a balance in it, which Najla provides very well.

There is a lot of complexity to the book. In fact, at most points, I had to go and read up on Palestinian history to make sense of what Najla had to say. But all said and done, it is a great memoir – of discovery, loss and finding oneself all over again.

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Book Review: The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride Title: The Good Lord Bird
Author: James McBride
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1594486340
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historic Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always been wary of award-winning books. Something about them, that makes me most skeptical to pick them up and start reading. May be that is why, I get all wired when I start reading an award-winning title. It has happened in the past and I thought it would happen again; however this year’s NBA winner, “The Good Lord Bird” by James McBride took me by surprise. I actually enjoyed reading this, though in parts it did get tedious, but overall, it was an irresistible experience. I would keep the book in-between and immediately get back to it. I had to soak in everything it had to offer.

“The Good Lord Bird” is about a boy – Henry Shackleford (an African-American slave), who is abducted by John Brown (a white abolitionist), following a brawl. We all have heard of John Brown – the zealot, who wanted to abolish slavery in America and succeeded to a large extent. The novel is about Henry also known as Henrietta (as he is mistaken to be a girl by John Brown and his men), and the incidents that occur, as seen through his eyes. He is known as “Onion” by John Brown and that is another name that sticks.

Henry observes people around him as the group is on the move to free slaves, wage wars against people who are Pro-Slaves and think of ways and means to win the battle against slavery. What I found most interesting in the book were the parts of Henry being a girl, and interacting with other white men and people of his own colour. Why is he a girl? Because John Brown mistakes him to be one, given his skin colour and hair texture and that sticks. In order to save his life and be free (which is of a conflicting nature in his head sometimes), Henry pretends to be a girl.

McBride captures an age gone by beautifully through use of language, idiosyncrasies, and description of the landscape. The story moves from Kansas to Missouri and Virginia with great ease and aplomb and so do the characters, as seen by Henry. The writing almost feels real, though you know that most of it is made up or rather all of it is, and yet you cannot help yourself but think of the conversations and incidents to have occurred.

There is a plethora of characters that Henry meets along the way, and they all have a role to play, which McBride executes with great ease and charm. The book is funny in most places and yet there is the tragic aura to it, given the concept of slavery and other issues mentioned. There is a lot of depth of emotion to the book, lend by various characters – from one of the whores in a brothel to John Brown’s sons, to even a couple of Pro-Slavers.

James McBride takes a major chunk of history and makes it his own, which is something very few authors can manage to achieve. Why is the title what it is? For that, you would have to read the book to find out. I can only say one thing, that perhaps this book has to a large extent changed my opinion of award-winning books. It is definitely going to be read again in 2014.

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