Title: Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family
Author: Najla Said
Release Date: August 1, 2013
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Cultural
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
For so long, Najla Said has been known as her father’s daughter: Edward Said was a Palestinian-American professor who wrote Orientalism, a classic that changed the way the world viewed the Middle East and Asia. But what Najla didn’t know was who exactly she was. Was she Palestinian? American? Lebanese? Christian? Arab? These identities—often at odds with one another—were difficult to come to terms with and understand as Najla was growing up.
Najla Said’s memoir Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family is a thoughtful look at what it means to be multicultural. Though readers of Arab and Middle Eastern descent will find this book especially poignant, anyone who’s grown up in the United States and has felt, at one point or another, on the outside looking in will really appreciate Najla’s words. She didn’t know where she belonged or who to identify with, and thus she was completely lost and confused growing up.
But more than that, Looking for Palestine is about being a self-hating Arab and/or Palestinian. Everything around Najla—the news media, her friends’ parents, and such—told her that these two things were evil. Arabs and Palestinians were bad people. It’s interesting to watch Najla struggle with this information and try to incorporate it into her worldview, as well as her self-perception. It had serious repercussions for her in terms of how she saw herself, with lasting and very harmful results. What does it mean to be an Arab Palestinian American? Said has spent her life trying to figure out the answer to that, and it’s only recently that she’s began to succeed.
But Looking for Palestine is more than just a cultural memoir; it’s also a story of fathers and daughters. To many, Edward Said is a legend, someone to be praised and hero worshiped, whose writings should be studied religiously. But to Najla Said, he was just dad. Najla states again and again that she didn’t realize the influence and power her father had until she was older; that life of Edward Said’s was separate than the one he led at home. It’s a great meditation on what it is to have a famous father, whose fans believed he belonged just as much to them as he did to his own daughter.
And indeed, being the daughter of someone so learned and famous also affected Najla, whose peers expected her to have the same knowledge as her dad. It’s just another aspect to the difficult puzzle of Najla trying desperately to figure out who she was and where she belonged. This is a thought-provoking novel of the search for an identity. It’s well-written and easy to read, and fans of both memoirs and cultural stories shouldn’t hesitate to pick this book up.