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Crescent: A Novel Hardcover – April, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039305747X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393057478
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #748,482 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

It's a positive relief to read a novel that treats Iraqis as real people. Diana Abu-Jaber's second novel, Crescent, is set in Los Angeles and peopled by immigrants and Iraqi-Americans. Thirty-nine-year-old, half-Arab Sirine is a chef in a Lebanese restaurant. Her uncle works at the university with Han, an Iraqi-born academic who begins frequenting Sirine's restaurant, drawn by her beauty and her exquisite cooking. Part of the book's charm is in its determination to impart the sheer glamour of Arabia, here personified in Han's face: "Sirine watches Han and for a moment it seems that she can actually see the ancient traces in Han's face, the quality of his gaze that seems to originate from a thousand-thousand years of watching the horizon--a forlorn, beautiful gazing, rich and more seductive than anything she has ever seen." Too, the book addresses head-on the one-dimensional view Americans possess of Iraq. I used to read about Baghdad in Arabian Nights," says one American character. "It was all about magic and adventurers. I thought that's what it was like there. And when I got older Baghdad turned into the stuff about war and bombs--the place on the TV set. I never thought about there being any kind of normal life there." As she falls more deeply in love with Han, Sirine discovers that part of being Iraqi now means learning to live with not knowing: not knowing where people have disappeared to, not knowing if your family is alive or dead. In the book's thrilling, romantic denouement, these lessons come perilously close to Sirine's Los Angeles home. Crescent brings alive a vibrant community of exiled academics, immigrants on the make, and optimistic souls looking for love. --Claire Dederer

From Publishers Weekly

Abu-Jaber (Arabian Jazz) weaves the story of a love affair between a comely chef and a handsome, haunted Near Eastern Studies professor together with a fanciful tale of a mother's quest to find her wayward son in this beautifully imagined and timely novel, which explores private emotions and global politics with both grace and conviction. Green-eyed, 39-year-old Sirine cooks up Arab specialties in a bustling cafe in Los Angeles where Arab students gather for a taste of home. When her doting uncle, who raised her after the death of her relief-worker parents 30 years ago, introduces her to his colleague Hanif, the placid surface of her life is disturbed. Their affair begins quickly and ardently, as Sirine, who has heretofore equated cooking with love, discovers the pleasures of romance, and the exiled Han struggles to feel grounded in a place far from the Baghdad he loved as a boy. In Abu-Jaber's sensuous prose, the city is as lush and fragrant as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and her secondary characters, like the wry, wise cafe owner Um-Nadia and the charmingly narcissistic poet and satyr Aziz, are appealingly eccentric. But a darkly troubled photographer drawn to both Sirine and Han, news of Saddam Hussein's latest atrocities and Han's painful memories of his imprisoned brother and his disappeared sister, for whose fates he feels responsible, cloud their affair, perhaps dooming it. Abu-Jaber's poignant contemplations of exile and her celebration of Sirine's exotic, committed domesticity-almond cookies, cardamom, and black tea with mint-help make this novel feel as exquisite as the "flaming, blooming" mejnoona tree behind Nadia's Cafe.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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

This book just made me want to keep going and going.
Ms. Abu-Jaber has woven a beautiful, intricate, sweet-scented tale of love, food, families and life.
Another profound aspect of the novel is the ethnic and cultural component of the story.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Maureen Clifford on June 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Diana Abu-Jaber's lush tale of cooking, love, longing, and exile set against the US's ongoing conflict with Iraq stirs the soul and totally fills the senses.
Crescent is a love story between an L.A.-born and -bred, green-eyed, half-Arab blonde chef and an exiled Iraqi intellectual with a mysterious past. Interwoven into the Sirine and Han's love story is the fable of Abdelrahman Salahadin, told by Sirine's uncle, the gently devoted man who raises her after her parents are killed overseas when Sirine is nine years old. Both Abdelrahman's destiny and Sirine and Han's love unfold amid lush surroundings, complete with the heady aromas of Middle Eastern food and the fragrance of the mejnoona tree, which blooms behind the busy café where Sirine works.
Anyone who appreciates either good food or a good love story will find Crescent an absolute delight. Crescent is beautiful and sensual and languid all at the same time, like a perfect Spring day in Oregon.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Marion VINE VOICE on July 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The scents, scenes and stories from this book will follow me for the rest of my life. I felt somehow changed inside when I finished the last page---enlightened and educated about Middle Eastern people and in awe of their myths, food and lives. I came away changed, enchanted and wanting to visit the Baghdad of Han and Sirine's story. Ms. Abu-Jaber has woven a beautiful, intricate, sweet-scented tale of love, food, families and life. The descriptions of the food made such an impression on me that I went and found some of the recipes from the story to make for myself so I could experience the flavors and make them my own. I highly recommend this book...I wish that all Americans could read this to better understand the culture of the Middle East.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
Abu-Jaber's latest novel, Crescent, is a lyrical tale of love, family and tradition, peopled with characters of Arabian descent, who live in an enclave in the heart of Los Angeles, California. Whether Iranian, Lebanese, Iraqi or Jordanian, all have in common the longing to return to the homelands of their youth, impossible given the socio-economic and political changes of the last decades.
The author speaks particularly to the Iraqi exiles, in a poignant portrayal of their memories, folktales and family connections. She does so in poetic phrases that remind this reader of the prolific Alice Hoffman, as page after page is filled with such deeply moving images, sounds and smells that Crescent redefines cultural stereotypes, allowing each individual his/her own identity.
The most important ingredient in this tasty concoction is the Arab-American Sirine, a master cook of ethnic delicacies at Nadia's Café, a Lebanese establishment, where students and other patrons gather to enjoy familiar dishes and discussions of their native countries. While current events swirl around her, Sirine blithely attends to the meals she lovingly prepares, stirring long-buried memories of her childhood longing for absentee parents, who travel to distant lands in an effort at humanitarian aid. When, finally, her parents fail to return home, Sirine quietly closes her heart against further loss.
When an exiled Iraqi professor of literature catches Sirine's eye, she is unable to resist, suddenly vulnerable to the characteristic emotions of incipient romance, the excitement and passion of the moment.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Jana L. Perskie HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
Sirine is the superb chef at Nadia's Cafe, a Lebanese restaurant in a small Near Eastern community in Los Angeles, near UCLA. The menu proclaims "Real True Arab Food," and the ethnic cuisine, scented with exotic spices and tasting of home, comforts and inspires the Arab and Iranian expatriates who eat here and live, work and study nearby. The food is actually so delicious that non-Middle Easterners frequent the restaurant also.

Sirine is a lovely, intelligent woman, who could have married at many points in her life. However, at age thirty-nine she is still single and not looking to change her civil status. Her father was Iraqi, her mother American. Together they worked for the Red Cross, and together they died in Africa when Sirene was just nine years-old. Her beloved Iraqi uncle, her father's brother, has cared for her ever since. Although she doesn't speak Arabic, is not a Muslim - nor a member of any religion for that matter, and has never been outside the US, she feels connected to Iraq and curious about her cultural and ethnic identity. Her few memories of her parents are painful. They always seemed to be saying good-by to her, or returning as strangers. When they failed to return that last time, she closed her heart against further loss.

Life is good, though. Sirine is independent and works at a job she loves. Her uncle, who provides his niece with enough love to equal a large family's worth, is also a professor and a teller of tales and fables which would put Shaharazad to shame. His "moralless" story, "the story of how to love," runs parallel to the actual narrative. It is about Aunt Camille and son, Abdelrahman Salahadin, who had an "incurable addiction to selling himself as a slave and faking his own drowning.
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