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Arabian Jazz: A Novel Paperback – April 17, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reissue edition (April 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393324222
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393324228
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #820,134 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A Jordanian widower and his family adjust to life in upstate New York in this impressive first novel.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

You're an Arab-American writing about your community in your first novel. Should you go for a comic/satirical treatment? Do something more serious, emphasizing cultural displacement? Or broaden your canvas to include the white, nonethnic neighbors? Abu- Jaber has tried all three tacks and been overwhelmed in the process. The Ramoud family, father and two grown daughters, live in a small town in upstate New York and work at the same hospital in Syracuse. The father, Matussem, emigrated from Jordan as a young man and fell in love with and married Nora, an Irish-American who interpreted his new country for him. Since her death from typhus on a trip to Jordan, the gentle, passive Matussem has found a refuge in jazz (he's a drummer with his own group) and caring for his daughters. The younger, Melvina, is no problem; only 22, she's already Head Nurse. But Jemorah, the protagonist by default in this plotless novel, is another story. Stuck in a clerical job she hates, Jem's pushing 30 and still single, which is driving her Aunt Fatima nuts. (Fatima, whose life's ambition is to join the worthy Arab matrons on the Ladies' Pontifical Committee, is the main satirical target here.) None of Jem's three possible mates is very plausible. There's Gilbert Sesame, a fast-talking pool hustler who's here one minute, gone the next; Ricky Ellis, a local grease monkey with whom Jem makes love in the bushes; and cousin Nassir, fresh from Jordan, who warns Jem about her extended family, ``a cult organization.'' Eventually, after two crudely engineered encounters with bigots, she decides that postgraduate research into race prejudice is the answer. The other elements in this mishmash (visiting Jordanians on a credit-card rampage, poor whites tormenting themselves with coathangers and booze) only add to the confusion. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Diana Abu-Jaber's latest novel, Birds of Paradise, won the National Arab American Book Award and was named a top book pick by the Washington Post, NPR, Chicago Tribune, and the Oregonian.

Her previous Origin, is a literary psychological thriller which has received starred reviews from both Publisher's Weekly and Booklist and won the Northwest Booksellers Award.

Her memoir-with-recipes, entitled The Language of Baklava, was a Border's Original Voices selection and was included in Best Food Writing 2005. It also won the 2006 Northwest Booksellers' Award.

Her novel, Crescent (W.W. Norton), won the PEN Center Award for Literary fiction and the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award. It was also named a Notable Book of the Year by the Christian Science Monitor. Her first novel, Arabian Jazz (W.W. Norton) won the Oregon Book award.

Abu-Jaber currently teaches at Portland State University and divides her time between Portland, Oregon and Miami, Florida.

Customer Reviews

Some of the passages in the book are exceptionally insightful and well written.
Mishka M
I also had a hard time even liking most of the characters, as they never really seemed to develop beyond the outward description of themselves.
A. Jammal
It is a fictional work that provides a birds' eye view into a sub culture that is very real and rich in America.
M. Adams

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
This light-hearted and imaginative novel portrays a Jordanian family as they adjust to life in the United States. Jazz musician and widower Mattusem Ramoud has raised his two daughters alone since his wife's death, balancing their lives as Americans with their Jordanian hertiage. The extended family is like any other large, eccentric group of people, full of intensity and humor, loving each other unconditionally through whatever difficulties arise.
Jemorah and Melvina have reached marriageable age and their Aunt Fatima, Matussem's sister, is determined that this year, during "Family Function Season", at least Jemorah will find a husband before she is old enough to be disqualified as a spinster. The search is on and Fatima leaves no stone unturned, offering an assortment of odd relatives, second cousins and distant "uncles". But Jemora is in no hurry to make a choice that will alter the course of her life, determined to make a well-informed decision.
This intimate peek into one Arab-American family's experience, blends two generations of Ramouds, all of them quirky and colorful. Many are recent visitors from Jordan who speak in fractured English that renders them even more charming and eccentric, if that is possible, as Abu-Jaber holds her finger directly on the pulse of this remarkable family. Cousin Saiid enthuses, "I must be in heaven, man. You are our cousins, man? This is completely, like, my mind is psyching out."
Old Country fables abound, along with the foolish antics of the younger generation in this eclectic mix of characters. Each page is a delight, bursting with life and energy, family connections and intimate portraits of the bonds of love. Whatever Jemorah decides, she will always have a soft place to fall, her Jordanian-American family her greatest asset.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mishka M on July 22, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Worth reading, though the first few pages (and some later) are extremely disappointing. Arabic names are mispronounced, the attempt at comedy is poor, and none of the characters are remotely sympathetic. As the book proceeds, we meet a very different kind of writing. Some of the passages in the book are exceptionally insightful and well written. For those passages it is well worth reading the book. I would rate the book between 1 and 5. It won't tell you much about Arab culture except in parody, but it portrays alienation and prejudice with candor and poignancy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By S. Daney on November 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have read three of Diane Abu Jaber's novels, and this was my least favorite. I did not identify with the characters as easily as I did in her other novels, and the story and characters were not as believable The main characters in Crescent and The Language of Baklava were more real, and the plots were more engaging.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is one of the most beautifully written, beautifully conceived, and masterfully executed works of fiction I have read in years. I would liken its comic force to the very best of John Barth or Italo Calvino; its tragic dimensions are reminiscent of Annie Proulx's Postcards. Arabian Jazz is a small masterpiece, as finely crafted as polished stone. Anyone who wishes to see where fiction ought to take us should read this book.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By David J. Gannon on May 25, 1998
Format: Paperback
Arabian Jazz recounts the experiences of an Arab-American immigrant family living in a depressed area of upstate Ney York. The story revolves around the themes of family, race, marriage and loss as the two grown daughters of Matussem Ramoud, daytime hospiatal maintenance man and night time jazz drummer work through the pressures of work, family pressure to marry "correctly" and the loss of their mother early in childhood.
While I found the primary characters engaging and the story often moving, this book suffers, greatly at times, from what I'd describe as "First Novel Faults". Many of the secondary characters have no substance, or have substance but appear and disapper from the narrative in haphazzard ways. The novel attempts to paint a picture of life in the community overall but does so in an inadequate, stilted manner at odds with the heart of the story. Some of the personal confrontations are contrived and some of the characters come across as stereotypes.
All of those faults notwithstanding, the book nevertheless paints a vivid, moving picture of the immigrant experience, the difficulties inherent in interacial interpersonal relations and the groping for familial healing in the face of loss. In the end, the power of the story, the realism of the primary characters, and the sense of genuine love that suffuses the narrative more than compensate for the technical problems that crop up from time to time. I heartily recommend this book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Thoughtful on November 2, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Interesting but not super as her novel Crescent was. Crescent was really a wonderful novel that I have given as a gift to many friends. I was hoping to feel this way about Arabian Jazz.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By M. Adams on December 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. The characters were multi dimensional, and very realistic. It is a fictional work that provides a birds' eye view into a sub culture that is very real and rich in America.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A. Jammal on September 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
I agree with many of the above reviewers. While it is a fun, sort-of, peek into Arab/American culture, I do not find it to be all that realistic. As a part of an Arab/American family, I was really surprised to find main characters who are supposed to be Arab Christian with names like Fatima, or Abdul so and so. This is not authentic--any Arab would recognize this as false, as well as the constant use of phrases referring to the Prophet, which would not, as another reviewer asserted, ever be used by Arab Christians. Even the transliterated Arabic phrases and descriptions are incorrect and seem contrived or false somehow. I also had a hard time even liking most of the characters, as they never really seemed to develop beyond the outward description of themselves. I think that non-Arab readers will not see a picture of an Arab/American family; rather, they will only see a cartoonish parody of the "A-rab" culture they do not understand as it is. However, for someone who knows/lives/understands the culture, it is somewhat entertaining, though slightly irritating. For a more realistic view of Arab life, read books by Leila Ahmed, Hanan Al-Shaykh, Ahdaf Soueif, or Naguib Mahfouz.
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