arabjazz“Young men were drawn to her olive colors, inkwell eyes; they stood close to look at her hair, anoint themselves in her presence.  But always she would feel herself stiffening under their gaze, trapped like an animal in headlights, her pulse slowing, her aunts’ voices running through her like a river.” – p 37

Jemorah and Melvina Ramoud have been raised by their father – a Jordanian American man whose love for the drums is the only thing that can dampen his grief for his late wife.  Now in their 20’s, Jem and Melvie are a source of constant worry to their aunts, who long to see them married off to a nice Arabian man.  Jem is brilliantly intelligent but lacks the motivation to do much with her life, working as a secretary in the same hospital as her father and sister.  Melvie is a highly driven nurse, who takes no guff from her patients or her family and friends, she is as stubborn and powerful as a force of nature.  As different family members travel from Jordan to assist in the attempts to find men for these women, Jem and Melvie and their father, must come to terms with who they are and who their family is.  The girls must struggle to define themselves – are they Arabian or American?  Or can they be both?  And they must forgive themselves for what happened to their mother – who was with both of them the night she died.  Along their path of healing and learning, other family members are drawn in and given a chance to forgive themselves for ancient wrongs and misdeeds.

I didn’t really have a great reason for picking this book up, mostly because we were trying to take as many books from the library as we could to help them move and this sounded vaguely interesting.  The basis for the story (finding your racial identity or dealing with the death of your mother) wasn’t very pertinent for me but I still found both Jemorah and Melvina enthralling as characters.  The storytelling was lovely and lyrical, with portions of such beautiful prose that it could have been considered poetry.

You could call this book a novel without a conclusive ending – it isn’t wrapped up all neat and tidy like a Jane Austen novel.  But it still is satisfying.  All throughout the story, there’s a frantic and unhappy and unsettled tone.  But the ending is mellow and peaceful, and you see that it’s the perfect way for you to leave the family.

“Arabian Jazz” was written by Diana Abu-Jaber and published in 1993.