Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mosaic by Soheir Khashoggi

Do you ever read a book then stop, look at the cover and wonder who put the wrong cover on the book you just read? That's the way that I felt about Mosaic. The book is quite interesting. But the picture on the front and the blurb on the back are only narrowly reflective of the story between the covers.
Mosaic is the story of an Arab-American family post 9/11. They experience obvious tensions because of their heritage and eventually the father decides to take his children back home to Jordan where they can be raised outside the influences of American culture. In so far as it goes, that is the story inside and the story on the back. But, that's where the similarities end.
Nowhere on the back cover does the book discuss Dina, the main character's, two best friends Sarah and Emmeline. Their stories are as much a part of the "Mosaic" that Khashoggi creates as the Jordanian/Lebanese/American family. There is even a line about how the three friends together create a mosaic.
Also, the picture on the cover is deceptive. To me, this is a very stereotypical political ploy by the editors - or whomever it is that decides on book art - to fit into the political time frame of post 9/11 United States. The cover suggests an American woman wearing some type of traditional Muslim headcovering. Nothing could be further from the truth. Subjugation of women is only a very minor plot point, veiling is never even mentioned. The story outside of the U.S. takes place in Jordan, one of the most forward-looking Middle Eastern nations. I have to wonder if someone felt that the book would sell better if it looked more "exotic" and derisive of Middle Eastern culture.
As far as the story itself goes, I liked it. Khashoggi obviously knows Middle Eastern culture and is aware of the diversity that exists both in the U.S. and in the Middle East. She creates characters who are affected by 9/11 in very real ways: they are American in form, but discover that unexpected prejudices exist.
My only problem with the plot is the end of the book. I feel like the climax and the denoument ended 30-40 pages before she stopped writing. The last few chapters were plodding and unnecessary in my view. I understand that she included some of the resolution to show a passage of time in order to make the final scene of the book believable, but I would have appreciated it much better if that information had all been left to the reader's imagination.
I love reading books about the Middle East. What better way to learn about a culture that can be so foreign to American culture than through the lens of fiction? This story increases my knowledge of what life is like for Arab-Americans who are attempting to bridge the gap between two very disparate societies. However, I wish the people who had created the book had allowed the reader's enough smarts and interest to enjoy the book on its own terms rather than through the lens of an orientalist perception of what the Middle East should look like.

No comments: