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Swimming Toward the Light (Arab American Writing) Hardcover – February 28, 2007


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Product Details

  • Series: Arab American Writing
  • Hardcover: 188 pages
  • Publisher: Syracuse Univ Pr (Sd); First Edition edition (February 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815608578
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815608578
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,705,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Leone draws on her heritage in her uneven debut, a flawed novel about a dysfunctional Lebanese Christian immigrant family living in 1950s Washington, D.C. The daughter of a meek father and tyrannical mother, Irene Awtooah is gifted with a magnificent voice, but singing is forbidden in her joyless home. When Irene is 14, two neighborhood women—non-Lebanese "outsiders"—hear Irene singing and offer her free music lessons, but Mama, who married at 13 and had her first child at 14, sabotages Irene's lessons and crushes her spirit, sending the girl into a downward spiral. Though the story is Irene's, it's narrated by Irene's sister, Lottie, who remains needlessly opaque throughout. Also, Mama's viciousness is never made believable. Readers may be seduced by the Mideast immigrant angle, but the story and storytelling are disappointing. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Oh, how sweet a mother's love, until it becomes too suffocating. Set in Washington, D.C., in the 1950s, Leone's debut novel tells a painful saga of a Lebanese immigrant family stuck between cultures. Irene, a sweet, obedient girl and the youngest in a large family, suffers a dangerous bout of influenza at age three. After nursing her back to health, her mother becomes fiercely protective, and Irene grows up under her watchful eye, never allowed to have friends or play outside the home. But with high school comes a modicum of freedom, and Irene slowly starts to come into her own, encouraged by two kindly neighbors who notice her unusual talent for singing. Mama, ever suspicious of American ways, tries desperately to prevent this blossoming, and her stifling love forces Irene down a tragic path. Lottie, Irene's older sister, is the wise narrator of this story as she tries, years later, to figure out what went wrong. Fans of Arab-American literature will especially love the details that flavor Leone's touching novel. Emily Cook
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By E. Bollinger on April 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Tehaan Leone's moving tale is exquisitely wrought. Her sentences are like paintings and their beauty balances the heartbreaking story of an immigrant family whose matriarch fights her family's assimilation through the destruction of her youngest child. The gifted and sensitive teen is blessed with an angelic singing voice and the successful pursuit of an artistic career threatens her mother to the core. Singing may be allowed but freedom is not. An excellent `take' on the perils of familial love when mental illness is masked as protection of Old World traditions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Beverly T. Mcgrath on November 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book reminded me of another one of my favorite authors, Louise Erdrich, by bringing you right inside the lives and emotions of a culture completely different than my own. This was a very emotional novel that doesn't use cheap tricks to put a lump in your throat. It's realistic and sadly all too believable. Poignant is the word, not sturm and drang. I couldn't put the book down. The most important way that a book or movie can fully engage you is by making you care about the characters. You'll find yourself caring deeply for Irene, the main character. Every child is born with a unique personality and Irene was someone who was highly sensitive and fragile. A complete collision course with her dominating, narrow minded mother.
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Format: Hardcover
In Swimming Toward the Light, Angela Tehaan Leone has proven that true wealth is in selection. With concise, carefully chosen scenes - some tender, some harsh - Ms. Leone takes the reader inside the Awtooah household where we meet Irene, a young woman struggling to appease her tyrannical mother, yet find a niche in her community.

Her choice of Lottie, Irene's older sister, as the narrator of Irene's story was a wise decision. Through Lottie we learn that Irene's mother is unable to accept Irene's growing talent as a vocalist in much the same way she is unable to accept Irene's maturation. Mama is fearful, and predictably scornful of the world outside her close knit immigrant community.

Irene is not only required to wear the hand-me-down clothes her mother lengthens with crocheted edging, rick-rack, and ruffles, but is expected to don her mother's established Lebanese culture as well. Mama's dread of the American culture is expressed in her words "What dey want from us?"

Ms. Leone understands the power of restraint in writing, and deftly reveals what Irene values; a chance to fit in at the American school - made impossible given her odd clothing, her shyness over her birthmark, and the stubbornly traditional lunches her mother packed while her schoolmates ". . . ate baloney and peanut butter on Wonder bread. . . ."

In the midst of Irene's loneliness, a budding romance with Ralph Alan, marked by gentleness and innocence, brightens her days. When two American ladies discover her remarkable singing voice, it appears Irene may have a chance to break free of the stifling constraints of her mother's world.In recounting her sister's tragic life, Lottie reveals much about her own struggle for independence. This novel has a wide-ranging appeal, far beyond the realm of Arab-American literature.
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Format: Hardcover
When I started reading the first few pages of this book, I actually felt like I was there. The writing puts you in the time and place. I could see everything vividly. I don't always do well with books as they lose my attention but this book was so amazing. There is hurt and pain in everyone's lives and you really don't know what goes on behind closed doors.

The story was very emotional and passionate but so real too.
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