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The Girl Who Fell to Earth: A Memoir Paperback – November 27, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Original edition (November 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006199975X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061999758
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #322,826 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The writer was born in Seattle to an American farm girl and a Bedouin father, and he soon returned to Qatar, where he started a second family. As a young teen, Sophia is on the classic quest to find her father (and herself), and her wry, eloquent narrative does a great job of blending the viewpoints of the 12-year-old then and the adult writer now, while the intersection of contemporary cultures explodes the comfortable stereotypes, old and new. The girl is shocked by backward Bedouin traditions and deep sexual segregation, but she also remembers her American school segregation of jocks, geeks, and freaks, and very clearly by race, and she discovers that love in a culture of arranged marriage and sexual oppression can be “far more complex than anything on MTV.” As the action moves from the Nile delta to Cairo, her commentary gets it exactly right, and without a heavy message. The day was so full of these “exotic” people doing, well, “normal” stuff. Families like hers had the “nouveau” part without the “riche.” Great for reading aloud. --Hazel Rochman

From the Back Cover

When Sophia Al-Maria's mother sends her away from rainy Washington State to stay with her husband's desert-dwelling Bedouin family in Qatar, she intends it to be a sort of teenage cultural boot camp. What her mother doesn't know is that there are some things about growing up that are universal. In Qatar, Sophia is faced with a new world she'd only imagined as a child. She sets out to find her freedom, even in the most unlikely of places.

Both family saga and coming-of-age story, The Girl Who Fell to Earth takes readers from the green valleys of the Pacific Northwest to the dunes of the Arabian Gulf and on to the sprawling chaos of Cairo. Struggling to adapt to her nomadic lifestyle, Sophia is haunted by the feeling that she is perpetually in exile: hovering somewhere between two families, two cultures, and two worlds. She must make a place for herself—a complex journey that includes finding young love in the Arabian Gulf, rebellion in Cairo, and, finally, self-discovery in the mountains of Sinai.

The Girl Who Fell to Earth heralds the arrival of an electric new talent and takes us on the most personal of quests: the voyage home.

Customer Reviews

It was a pleasure to read this book.
Matthew Crawford
Her style and honesty makes for a very interesting and informative read into the Bedouin culture and the shifting life styles of it's people.
Marina Cronkhite
Yet growing up a young person in America is often stereotyped and clichéd, as well.
Noah Raford

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Akuru on December 5, 2012
Format: Paperback
I adored this book.
Sparing the readers from the orientalist cliche's Middle Eastern writers are often forced into, The Girl Who Fell to Earth is a beautiful coming of age story that will resonate with anyone who has wanted to rebel and LIVE at the same time. Al Maria's writing style incorporates cultural complexities the author navigates with sensitivity and a unique perspective only those who cradle the thin line between two culture can present. Between her love for David Bowie and a desire to read the stars from the desert, Al Maria spoke to my heart.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 17, 2012
Format: Paperback
Sophia Al-Maria's memoir, "The Girl Who Fell to Earth," opens in the Arabian Peninsula in 1969. A Bedouin boy named Matar, of the Al-Dafira tribe, is mesmerized by a portable television that the members of his tiny settlement watch communally. When Matar is eighteen, he announces to his mother that he is going to Seattle, Washington. The fact that he speaks no English does not deter him. He dons a ridiculous "used polyester suit" (the slacks are salmon pink), flies to America, and ends up in a Tacoma, Washington bowling alley. There he meets Gale Valo, who happens to be sitting around waiting for a cousin. Improbably, these two people, who have nothing in common, end up marrying and having children, one of whom is the author.

Gale, who grew up on a farm in the Puyallup Valley, where her mother, Sophia, still lived, had no idea what she was getting into when she set her cap for Matar. Only later does Gale realize that she and her husband, whose background, language, and customs are radically different, could not realistically expect to live happily ever after. Not only does Matar insist that Gale convert to Islam, but he returns to the Gulf to seek his fortune. Gale and the kids eventually join him in Qatar, a move that proves disastrous. She says in a telephone call to her mother from the capital city of Doha, "I keep thinking this is how it must be for astronauts. All cooped up for months on end, not knowing which way is up."

"The Girl Who Fell to Earth" is about Sophia's efforts to fit in either in Qatar or Washington. When she was five and saw a video that her father sent from overseas, Sophia said, "having a second world to belong to immediately made me cast doubt on my place in the first.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Snaring the universal adolescent snarl of finding one's place in the world, is the marriage of her American mother and Bedouin father. Counter-intuitively, she often found the segregated world of the Bedouin culture to be more free for her, even within the folds of the abaya. Al-Maria split her childhood between poverty blighted Tacoma and Qatar. For some reason she found it more binding in Tacoma where people assumed they knew her.

Her memoir is deeply intuitive, with warm empathy toward her split family. She expresses the fears of being the outsider in both her cultures. Her language is erudite and witty. At one time, her father and mother lived together in Dakar. When he brought his second wife home, her mother used "germ warfare" to cope by sending in the plagues of her young daughters into the other wife's bedroom. It is this type of description,: sparing, witty, succinctly structured; that makes this book a joy to read.

Al-Maria writes about herself with compassion but also self revelation. I like her tremendously in her resistance to self pity and acceptance of her own shortcomings without self hate. She will often pull back at first, but watching from sidelines, eventually chooses her part to play. Sharing these two cultures is difficult to live and harder to expound upon without alienating the reader or making inane generalities. She is successful in escaping both these pitfalls. I recommend this book to you and await her future work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jaylia3 TOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 17, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
When Sophia Al-Maria's father was a boy his family still lived a traditional Bedouin lifestyle, traveling around the deserts of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and sleeping in tents under skies dark enough to be filled with stars. After being forced by boundary-loving authorities to settle in a gender-segregated family compound her father's wanderlust remained, which is how he ended up in Seattle unable to speak English but still managing to meet and marry an American girl, giving Al-Maria the dual or maybe triple or even quadruple cultural heritage that makes this memoir so mind expandingly and eye openingly interesting.

Al-Maria spent part of her childhood in her grandmother's small, isolated house in rural Washington state, where the protective paranoia of her mother made Al-Maria feel more trapped than when she stayed in her father's crowded multi-generational and now stationery home in Qatar. Even though while in Qatar there were substantial cultural and religious restrictions on her ability to move around freely and meet with whomever she wanted, being part of a larger family crowd felt liberating.
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