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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Life + Arts

Coming-of-age tale may offend

Randa Jarrar’s semi-autobiographical novel A Map of Home chronicles the nomadic childhood and adolescence of the Boston-born, Middle Eastern girl Nidali Ammar.

Jarrar’s characters have all the irrational complexity of real people and speak with very believable, conversational voices.

Unfortunately, the dialogue is mostly a mixture of casual swearing and ethnic phrases that quickly become more annoying than entertaining.

Jarrar attempts a more whimsical style now and then, but it is not enough to save the novel.

For example, when Ammar’s 7-year-old stream of consciousness ponders life, death and sex, she sounds more like an educated 50-year-old nun than a child.

Ammar expresses herself most clearly and vividly when she writes about her eccentric parents and comical college essays.

Jarrar’s work feels less like a novel and more like a sentimental memoir deformed by hindsight bias, but rather than a wise grandmother sharing deep secrets, the narrator is a sarcastic high school student.

While the reader might not learn much from Ammar, one can definitely relate to her.

The novel explores themes such as domestic abuse and teenage rebellion. Jarrar does well at convincing her readers that the young, impulsive and promiscuous Ammar is more enlightened than her superstitious, sheltering parents.

Female sexuality is also a recurring theme and sometimes the descriptions are just shy of a romance novel. Some of the subjects include birth, teenage foreplay and lesbian encounters.

These motifs attempt to reveal the true, unsung prevalence of sex, but they can be excessive.

Some of the novel’s most interesting moments are when the flirting is not overt. The subtle, Islamic courtship of Ammar’s mother and father is described as a nervous passing of glances and seductive adjusting of clothing.

As an adult, reading this novel feels pedophilic. Mature innuendo is mingled uncomfortably with the protagonist’s juvenile voice, but at the same time, the mature content inspires too much giggling to make it suitable for middle school reading lists.

Over all, A Map of Home is like Persepolis without the pictures and with a thicker slather of femininity. The language is simple and the read is fast, which could be useful for some weekend page perusing.

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