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Arabian Jazz: A Novel Paperback – April 17, 2003

4.0 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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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.
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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: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #255,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMEVINE 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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I loved reading this book, especially after reading her memoir, The Language of Baklava, as I could see her family amidst the characters in the story. Her descriptions of the marriage expectations for young Arab women was both telling and portrayed with such humor. My favorite Character was Melvina, the hard-nosed younger daughter who could speak so bluntly that I just had to laugh aloud. I will be seeking more of her books as she mixes love, humor and deep insight, all interwoven with her characters and stories.
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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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Arabian Jazz is a look at life through the eyes of an almost thirty year-old Arabian/American woman searching for identity.

Diana Abu-Jaber writes of what it means to be Arabic, American, an immigrant, a daughter, and a woman trying to find her sense of place in the world and in an often-kooky family. This is done with humor, heart, and breath-stopping prose that are so lovely you will find yourself re-reading passages again and again to hear the rhythm of her language.

I think everyone has an Auntie Fatima, no matter which culture you come from. And I wish I had a Nassir in mine.

Like Abu-Jaber's other novels, she transports you into another culture. Her words are poetic and thought-provoking. It is a beautiful experience to read her writing.

Victoria Allman
author of: SEAsoned: A Chef's Journey with Her Captain
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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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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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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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