I don’t like Jonatham Lethem’s writing, mostly because it smacks of ignorant and annoying generalizations that remind me of the one I used for the title of this post. This old article about his Egyptian cousin charmed me in spite of its 6th grade type realizations. Here’s a little somethin’ that displays his annoying capacity for both ignorance and charm:
Intermarriage, of any sort, was felt to be heroic, and Barbara, with her Egyptian family, seemed absolutely heroic. So did my fabled Aunt Molly, the dark horse of my mother’s family, who’d fled New York and married a Mexican, and then set up as a folk artist in Arizona. Even the Midwestern Lethems were obsessed with their purported trace of Native American blood – my legendary great-great-grandfather, named Brown, is said to have taken an Oglala Sioux bride.
Also, I grew up in a Brooklyn neighbourhood with more brown faces than white. So it was thrilling and consoling – not only righteous but intuitively right – that splashing around alongside us paler kids in the motel pool in Maryville, Missouri, during those 1970s family reunions, were my dark Egyptian cousins, Randa and Amir. And, by the poolside, arguing politics with my World War Two veteran uncles, and with my outspoken radical Jewish mother, was their growly, bearded, imperious and quite lovable father, Saad. In fact, though we might by some current standards seem conceptually ‘opposed’, we half-Jewish and half-Egyptian cousins were more like each other than we were like the many dozens of pure Midwestern cousins surrounding us. We’d brought a new flavour to the Lethem family, a scent of the wider world, of cosmopolitan cities and oceans, to a landlocked tribe.