Seattle-born writer Sophia Al-Maria's first book describes her childhood and young adulthood as the daughter of an American mother and a Bedouin father. Al-Maria's memoir is lovely and disorienting, traditional in its coming-of-age shape, but full of shocks and startling sensations. As Al-Maria journeys from a Seattle childhood to young adulthood in Qatar and Cairo, she tries to establish a fixed identity and to find equilibrium in two worlds. Al-Maria shows us American life from an Arab point of view and lifts the veil from Bedouin life to reveal unexpected freedoms, joys, dangers, and beauty.
Al-Maria is a sure and unsentimental historian of her own life, but she is most interesting when she's not focused on herself. She begins her story with her Bedouin father, Matar, relocated from a nomadic life to a more settled one in Doha, Qatar (see Beyond the Book). As a child...
Beyond the Book
Bedouin life has been slowly changing from a traditional nomadic existence to a more settled permanent one. Al-Maria's family effectively illustrates this transition.
Al-Maria adjusts to her Bedouin family's ancient way of life precisely at the same time that its members must adjust to modernity. The family had been experiencing what Al-Maria describes as "a long, slow retreat into the concrete domesticity of modern sedentary life." Not all is bad: "Compared with the poverty they were used to on their travels, not having to carry your weight in water was positively luxuriant."
But convenience has a price, paid largely by the women. The style of dress changed, for one thing. Bedouin girls in the family used to wear bright calico dresses without full-body veils....