Saturday, September 14, 2013

Looking for Palestine”, by Najla Said.

Looking for Palestine” by Najla Said.
Reviewed by Barbara Nimri Aziz

If you’ve seen Najla Said perform on stage or spoken to her, reading this
memoir, you’ll feel the same person. “Looking for Palestine” is a
conversational memoir—fresh, youthful, and zesty. Najla’s story and that
of her parents, with her famous father ever present, begins with her birth
and ends with his death when she’s college age. It’s well written, in a
breezy style echoing her theatrical and comedy performances. Still her
light style is underpinned by serious issues—personal psychological ones,
ambiguous relations with the Jewish people who seem to be everywhere, and
the painful inevitability of ‘being Arab’
 whatever that means.

Said’s is a very New York story—upper class Manhattan American with
teenage identity problems — an ‘other’, looking different while still
being conventional except that the family excursions to Beirut are
interrupted by wars.

As a teenager Said becomes only slowly informed about Palestine. She
admits her interests are primarily school, books, friends and music. She
also acknowledges enjoying an upper class life, surrounded by classmates
who while Jewish are more like her than unlike. Indeed she seems to become
aware of her father’s exalted reputation and his mission through these

All this Najla Said admits to in this candid, fluid review of her young
and unromantic although quasi exotic life. Very unpretentious. The
revelations have a child’s honest quality, with neither philosophical nor
poetic depth. Just as with her on-stage performances, one feels she is in
fact on stage in this book. But this makes her disclosures no less genuine
and informing.
We are treated to a steady output of memoirs and semi-autobiographical
novels from a new generation of Arab writers, mainly women, mainly
American, telling their story of becoming Arab— from the Iranian hostage
affair, through Sabra-Shatila massacres, the intifadahs, the first Gulf
war on Iraq, and of course the 911 attacks in 2001. Each crisis gradually,
and only gradually, adds to Najla’s maturity—a track many of us took. She
emerges as savvy American artist with a political message.

We are uncertain if Najla’s evolution is special because of a father
rooted in the Palestinian cause, or if this is common to Arab American
youth. Although he’s woven into her story, I suspect Edward Said’s mission
as a nationalist leader was secondary to his daughter. Possibly his
contributions in political thought and literary criticism are more central
to Najla’s own maturity and mission.

This is a valuable story of a young woman--definitely Arab-- growing
through many traumas associated with our ‘being’. Although an all too
frequent experience, this journey has not been told this way before. So,
Najla’s memoir add to the ongoing history of our people in America. With
this book she can reach many in her generation.

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