A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar

A Map of Home“Our people carry their homeland in their souls,” says Nadali’s father of his Palestinian heritage. And Nadali, A Map of Home’s quirky and irreverent teenaged narrator, truly knows no home. Born in Boston, her mother (half Egyptian and half Greek) and her father (a Palestinian) soon whisk her to Kuwait to bury her maternal grandmother.

This very eccentric family — the mother a devoted pianist with neither piano nor venue, and the father a raucous, mercurial, and occasionally brutal architect — stays in Kuwait meaning to make a home there. Soon, however, Iraq invades and they flee to the mother’s native Egypt. Life is difficult here; money is scarce, and the only one Nadali feels a true kinship with is her grandfather, whom her father refuses to let her visit.

Set in the 1970s, a time women were finding their own voices and independence, Nadali is continually reminded that she has neither. While she has a secret boyfriend and discovers her budding sexuality, she is still firmly under the thumb of a very autocratic father and an ineffectual mother.

In time, the father finds a job in Texas and the family moves to a place where they are clueless about the customs and mores, and where Nadali feels more alone than ever. It is here where Nadali begins in earnest to find her own identity; experimenting sexually with a girlfriend, losing her virginity to a handsome boy in her class, and struggling to turn her gift of writing into her own independence.

This is a first novel of extraordinary brilliance. Writing with humor and incredible insight, Randa Jarrar employs metaphor and candor to bring her unique Nadali to life. This is a perfect novel for the discussion of self, identity, family and breaking free.

Penguin; ISBN 978-0-14311-626-4; $15.
A Map of Home: Reading Group Guide

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