by Alia Yunis
USA. 320 pages. 2009.
In this captivating debut, Yunis takes readers on a magic carpet ride examining the lives of Fatima Abdullah and her huge dysfunctional family. Imitating Scheherazade, Fatima—in a clever twist—spins her own tales to the legendary storyteller. And she has plenty of material: Fatima is dying, and more interested in her prized possessions—including a house in Lebanon—than in reuniting her splintered offspring and her estranged husband, Ibraham, whose enduring love is proved in a neat twist at the end of the novel. Fatima’s family is all over the country, all with issues, including daughter Laila battling breast cancer in Detroit, openly gay actor grandson Amir in Los Angeles and pregnant great-granddaughter Aisha in Minneapolis. Gradually, Fatima learns that her true treasure isn’t the house in Lebanon that she’s pined after for decades, but her imperfect, loving family.
Add in a bumbling neophyte FBI agent seeing al-Qaeda smoke where there is no fire and the result is a sometimes serious, sometimes funny, but always touching tale of a Middle Eastern family putting down deep roots on U.S. soil.
About the author
Born in Chicago, Alia Yunis is a PEN Emerging Voices Fellow. She has worked as a journalist and filmmaker in several countries. As the daughter of an environmental engineer and a UN diplomat, she grew up in the Midwest, particularly the Twin Cities, and in Beirut during the civil war, graduating from high school in Athens, Greece. She completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Minnesota and American University in Washington, D.C.
Her fiction has been published in several journals and anthologies, and her non-fiction work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Saveur, SportsTravel Magazine, and Aramco World. She has received awards for both her writing and film work.
Alia has been awarded writing residencies at Hedgebrook and at the MacNamara Foundation in Maine. She currently teaches film and television at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi.
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We’ll be discussing this book in Berlin on Sunday. It’s…not as I had hoped. Washington, D.C. — what did you folks think?
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