Diana Abu-Jaber’s is a fresh voice in Arab American literature. The thematic power of her first novel, ARABIAN JAZZ, is generated by the collision between the past and the present, between dream and reality, and between the ways of “the Old Country” and the lifestyles of the New. Even though, structurally, the novel’s humor relies heavily on the anachronistic appearance of characters whose faith in the Old Country brings into question their cantankerous relationship with the present and reality, Abu-Jaber’s thematic treatment of the conflict between traditional Arab culture and modern American culture goes beyond the conventional exploration of irony. It reveals a painful paradox which is built on what African American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois calls “double consciousness.”
Abu-Jaber’s protagonist, Jemorah Ramoud, experiences this sense of conflicting identities quite acutely. Her father, Matussem Ramoud, is a first-generation Arab immigrant in the United States and her mother Nora, who died of typhus on her trip to Jordan, was white. Because of her mother’s untimely death and her father’s close tie to his relatives who live in Syracuse’s Arab community, Jemorah feels she is constantly under pressure to conform to traditional Arab customs she does not quite understand.
However, Jemorah eventually realizes that while getting two looks at the world can be a confusing experience, it can also be a blessing. “Arabian jazz,” as cacophonous as the term sounds, is a new form of music created by bridging two seemingly incompatible worlds. By deciding to take...
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- Critical Essays