Monday Must Read: Laila Halaby, Once in a Promised Land, and a memoir in poems, My Name on His Tongue
One of my favorite writers, one of my favorite novels (a read we need now even more than ever), and a memoir in poems. Laila is one of the writers whose work draws me back again and again.
Once in a Promised Land: A Novel
my name on his tongue: memoir in poems
Laila Halaby was born in Beirut to a Jordanian father and an American mother. She grew up mostly in Arizona, has traveled a fair amount, and has lived for bits of time on the East and West Coasts, the Midwest, and in Jordan and Italy. Her education includes an undergraduate degree in Italian and Arabic, and two Masters degrees, in Arabic Literature and in Counseling. She currently works as an Outreach Counselor for the University of Arizona’s College of Public Health.
my name on his tongue, Laila’s most recent publication, is a memoir in poems. Her novels West of the Jordan (winner of a PEN/Beyond Margins Award) and Once in a Promised Land (a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Authors selection; also named by the Washington Post as one of the 100 best works of fiction for 2007) were both published by (the phenomenal) Beacon Press. Besides fiction and poetry, she write stories for children, including a (as yet unpublished) book entitled Tracks in the Sand. This is a collection of Palestinian folktales that she gathered from children during the year she was living in Jordan and studying folklore on a Fulbright scholarship.
Laila’s most recent project is a novel that has as one of its main characters an American soldier coming home to the United States after completing three tours in Iraq. The writing and researching of this novel has led to the formation of a creative writing class for veterans.
Visit Laila’s Website: http://lailahalaby.net/
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Praise for Once in a Promised Land
‘Sometimes you run out of adjectives. Or the adjectives lose their luster. What if I say that “Once in a Promised Land” is brilliant, insightful, heartbreaking, enchanting — what does that even mean anymore? But this novel is brilliant because the prose glows, sends off heat. Insightful because it allows us to see into a place that most of us don’t know about. Heartbreaking because you can feel the situation that these characters are trapped in. And enchanting because it’s told in the form of a fairy tale that lets us believe that, somehow, these poor souls may be able to rescue themselves.”-Carolyn See, Washington Post
“Once in a Promised Land is the story of a couple, Jassim and Salwa, who left the deserts of their native Jordan for those of Arizona, each chasing their own dreams of opportunity and freedom. Although the two live far from Ground Zero, they cannot escape the nationwide fallout from 9/11. Jassim, a hydrologist, believes passionately in his mission to keep the water tables from dropping and make water accessible to all people, but his work is threatened by an FBI witch hunt for domestic terrorists. Salwa, a Palestinian now twice displaced, grappling to put down roots in an inhospitable climate, becomes pregnant against her husband’s wishes and then loses the baby. When Jassim kills a teenage boy in a terrible accident and Salwa becomes hopelessly entangled with a shady young American, their tenuous lives in exile and their fragile marriage begin to unravel . This intimate account of two parallel lives is an achingly honest look at what it means to straddle cultures, to be viewed with suspicion, and to struggle to find save haven.”-Book Sense (Notable Title 2007)
Praise for his name on my tongue
“In her debut poetry collection, best-selling novelist Halaby (West of Jordan) narrates the need of any Arab American to navigate new realities while giving voice to old ones. She writes about her inner feelings and daily experiences in a confessional mode reminiscent of works by Louise Glück. Using narrative style as she passionately interweaves insights about peace, war, family, nostalgia, exile, and sociopolitical conflicts among others, Halaby promotes poetry as both testimony and instrument of change: ‘one thousand /one hundred / one / it doesn’t matter the number / they came / and walked / for peace.’ The tireless search for a sense of belonging drums through most of the poems, as the poet tries to reconcile here with there, her new country with the ancestral homeland. She deploys sarcasm and irony to express her bitterness over the trend of cultural demonizing, and her heritage, with its strong narrative of historical grievances, gives the poems a melancholy tone. VERDICT Halaby transfers her life’s experiences into emotionally touching poems. Recommended for all readers, especially those interested in Arab American literature.”—Library Journal
“Laila Halaby is a necessary poet. The frank, appealing poems of my name on his tongue illuminate complexities and inequities with resonance and power. A wake-up call of a book.”—Naomi Shihab Nye, author of 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East
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