I took my kid to Bookpeople Saturday, and he disappeared promptly after we entered the store. I stayed calm and picked up a few titles to peruse in the rocking chair in the kid’s section (my usual post at Bookpeople). These titles included the new Bee Lavender book, Wendy’s book, I’m Not The New Me, a Patricia Highsmith bio in which there’s a photo of her topless (purrrrr…will try to find the photo and post it one day), and a copy of Bitch magazine. Then I went hunting for the cub.

I found him 3 minutes later sitting in a chair and listening to a reading. The authors were a husband and wife team, a writer and illustrator of children’s books about Native American kids and their horses. The husband was drawing a picture of a horse. It looked like a deranged dinosaur. But my son nodded, and whispered, “it looks so cool!” helistened to the author read from her book, and closed his eyes to imagine the scenes.

After the reading, I flipped through my books and my kid flipped through his comics. A few minutes later, he looked up and said, “Why don’t you write a book about us?” “You mean a children’s book about you?” “NO, like, a diary about us?” “Because one day, you’ll be grown up and it’ll make you mad that I wrote about you.” “No way! I want you to write about me. It would be cool. Write about the stuff we do together.”

These days I have been alternatively disheartened and charged up about writing. My friend Alaa, who lives in Cairo, read my novel and loved it. He wrote a post about it in Arabic, which made me cry. While I was writing my book, I was suffering from the “inauthenticity” issue that a lot of Arab Americans go through (“I’m not a real Arab. Who am I writing for?” etc.) Over time, I slowly stopped worrying about people who slung the inauthenticity rock. Most of those people were just voices in my head, anyway.

Still, it’s reassuring to know an Egyptian friend in Cairo liked, and related to, my novel. A real relief.

These things are related somehow, I promise: my kid and the authenticity and the writing and all that. Because I’ve always felt so in between, in all senses of the word, but especially when I start a novel, which I am doing now. I struggle between writing something completelly fictional, and something completely autobiographical. With the first one, I found a good balance. I guess I am having a hard time trusting myself to find that balance again. But I’ve always struggled with the fact that I write things that are semi-autobiographical, or that could be perceived as such, because then it may give others the excuse to pull the rug from under me and expose me as a fraud, because, since I write things that I draw from my real life experiences, I am not a real writer. Or because I am American, I am not Arab. Or because I am Arab, I am not American. Or because I am a single mom, I am not interested in success. This is all simply not true. I am learning to see what is, and repeat it to myself, daily. Lately I have been dreaming that I am riding a bicycle. In my waking life, I am also searching for a good balance.

7 thoughts on “

  1. Hi Randa,

    I’m looking for books to read over the summer and was wondering if you could suggest some Arab/Arab American authors/books for me to check out. Thanks!

  2. Hey!
    Some favorites: fiction: Arabesques, by Anton Shammas; The Secret Life of Said the Pessoptimist, by Emile Habiby; Fantasia, by Assia Djebar; Personal Papers, by Latifa Zayyat; essays: Reflections on Exile, by Edward Said; and poetry: Hayan Charara, Mohja Kahf, Khaled Mattawa, and Naomi Shihab Nye. Also, there’s Dinarzad’s Children, an anthology of Arab American fiction, if you’re into short story anthologies.
    Have fun!

  3. I can’t wait for your children’s book!

    The whole authenticity / authorship / motherhood connection makes sense to me. It would be an interesting subject for a book.

  4. I know what you mean about the “inauthenticity” problem. It is a hard question. As simple as it may be, I think authenticity is internal. It is not cultural; it is not an identity. It is how a person relates to him or herself and others — the authentic person just is. These are not well thought out, I confess.


  5. While I was writing my book, I was suffering from the “inauthenticity” issue that a lot of Arab Americans go through (“I’m not a real Arab. Who am I writing for?”)

    Your voice will come from this gap and space. Don’t write to alleviate the strange zone you feel yourself in, there is no authenticity. The novel has always categorized the marginal. When you realize this you will know why you have the eye to write; it comes from that floating in-between and marginal life that is yours. The novel is there to crawl around gaps and deny the authentic. That’s the only authentic thing about it, its unofficial tune and its in-authenticity. In other words, this anxiety becomes your strength and subject.

  6. God I am so grateful that you bring up this “authenticity” question. I get the same voices in my head… and lately on my blog or elsewhere in the blogosphere I’ve also had to face the charge of being a House Arab. Yeah, I write about Arabs and Jews, and I don’t always make Jews out to be ugly oppressors! So I’m a house Arab. (derived from “house nigger”, the light skinned black slave who worked in the master’s house, not in the fields, and used his access and privilege to either betray or belittle his field hand brothers)

    Keep it up Randa. I’m looking forward to reading your books – and how delicious that your son wants you to write a diary about your life together. Now you *have* to.

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