Randa Jarrar, the daughter of a Palestinian father and a Greek-Egyptian mother, was born in Kuwait in 1978. After the first Gulf War the family moved to the USA where Randa studied Oriental Studies and literature. Today she teaches creative writing at the University of Michigan and is a columnist for the feminist magazine »make/shift«.
She has published several short stories and translations from the Arabic in various magazines and anthologies. In 2004 she won the »Million Writers Award« for her short story »You Are a Fourteen-Year-Old Arab Chick Who Just Moved To Texas«.
In »A Map Of Home«, to be published in Germany in autumn 2009, the protagonist’s name gives a clue to the content – »Nidali« is the feminised form of the Arabic word for »war« or »conflict«.
Nidali, a child caught between the Arab world and western influences, finds both refuge and disappointment in both. Jarrar accomplished this ambivalence through language which incorporates Arabic terms and snippets from pop culture. When the eight year-old awakes one night from a nightmare she learns that neither her »Mama« nor her »Baba« are at home, and that only her ›Wonder Woman stickers‹ can quieten her fears of falling asleep again.
The political events, always related to the personal, are gripping, free of pathos – and at times extremely funny, for example when Nidali’s family are forced to flee Kuwait when the Iraqi troops march in and, while on the run, write a desperate letter to Saddam Hussein in which they accuse him of the loss of their home, time, and love, and as a farewell wish him a close-contact rectal examination by means of projectile weaponry.
These and similar passages make it clear that this is not a genuinely political novel. Nidali’s youth is at the centre of the story, and Jarrar succeeds admirably in authentically portraying young adults in her stories. They are curious, but not exaggeratedly naïve, they are cheeky and angry without being vulgar, they struggle with their destinies, but avoid falling into self-pity. »Nidali is an outsider who experiences terrible times, but Jarrar knows that all youths feel like outsiders who are experiencing terrible times« (Kirkus Reviews).
Jarrar won the Arab American Book Award in 2009 for »A Map Of Home«. She is currently working on new short stories and a novel about a single mother and her magical son. Randa Jarrar lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
© international literature festival berlin