- Contemporary Arab-American Literature: Transnational Reconfigurations of Citizenship and Belonging by Carol Fadda-Conrey
In 2006, MELUS published a special issue on Arab American literature, marking a milestone in scholarship on a burgeoning field of literary production and criticism. In recent years, there has been a growing body of critical studies focused on Arab American literary and visual productions. Among these works are Steven Salaita’s Modern Arab American Fiction: A Reader’s Guide (2011); WaïlS. Hassan’s Immigrant Narratives: Orientalism and Cultural Translation in Arab American and Arab British Literature (2011); Nouri Gana’s The Edinburgh Companion to the Arab Novel in English: The Politics of Anglo Arab and Arab American Literature and Culture (2013); and Therí A. Pickens’s New Body Politics: Narrating Arab and Black Identity in the Contemporary United States (2014). Carol Fadda-Conrey’s Contemporary Arab-American Literature: Transnational Reconfigurations of Citizenship and Belonging offers an important contribution to this growing field of critical inquiry.
Focused on works produced from the 1990s to the present, Fadda-Conrey analyzes a number of literary texts along with a few visual pieces and art installations. Produced in a climate of intense US military and political involvement in both Arab and non-Arab Muslim majority regions of the world, these texts, Fadda-Conrey observes, contest negative stereotypes of Arab Americans and Muslims in the United States. She argues that such contestations confront the tensions between the categories “Arab” and “American” through a “discursive negotiation of transnational connections to Arab homelands from a variegated and multilayered US perspective” (3). This transnational perspective, Fadda-Conrey proposes, “has an integral role in creating a space for reformulating hegemonic and unilocal understandings of US citizenship and belonging” (3). This is Fadda-Conrey’s major claim in her book, a bold and insightful assertion about the ways in which [End Page 221] Arab American literary and visual texts reshape ideas of American belonging through transnational evocations of Arab homelands in US contexts. In highlighting the texts’ evocations of transnational sensibilities in their reconfigurations of US citizenship, Fadda-Conrey offers an important contribution to the study of Arab American literature and its relation to ethnic, American, and diaspora studies.
Fadda-Conrey organizes her work according to thematic concerns, grouping various authors in particular chapters while addressing different works by the same authors in more than one chapter. Chapter One, “Reimagining the Ancestral Arab Homeland,” addresses the theme of inherited memories of Arab landscapes in US contexts. Focusing on works of second- and third-generation Arab Americans, Fadda-Conrey examines texts by Lawrence Joseph, Therese Saliba, and Suheir Hammad to show how the piecing together of fragmented memories handed down from older family members to younger generations offers links to an Arab past in ways that also enable the reconfiguration of an anti-hegemonic US present. She then looks at works by Joe Kadi and Diana Abu-Jaber to show how these writers produce gendered memories within culinary spaces that simultaneously challenge patriarchal constructs of Arab homelands and racialized formulations of US citizenship. In addition, Fadda-Conrey analyzes works by Joseph Geha, Hayan Charara, and Mohja Kahf to explore how writers who were born or raised in the US maintain connections to lost Arab homelands by enacting transnational identifications that destabilize racial, religious, and ethnic configurations of US citizenship.
Chapter Two, “To the Arab Homeland and Back: Narratives of Returns and Rearrivals,” examines works that feature female protagonists and their gendered “revisionary negotiation of Arab-American identities” through “return journeys to Arab ancestral homelands” (67). Fadda-Conrey includes in this section literary works such as Mohja Kahf’s The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf (2006), Samia Serageldin’s The Cairo House (2000), and Susan Muaddi Darraj’s short story collection The Inheritance of Exile (2007). She also analyzes Annemarie Jacir’s film Salt of This Sea (2008) and Emily Jacir’s art installation Where We Come From (2001-03). Throughout her discussion of these different texts, Fadda-Conrey points to the ways in which...