A BookSense Notable Title for February 2007
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.
Halaby's timely second novel details the painful crumbling of a marriage mired in prejudice, cultural displacement, and deceit in the days following 9/11. Jassim Haddad and his wife, Salwa, have come to Tucson from Jordan so Jassim can pursue his career as a hydrologist. Questions regarding their cultural and religious background are at first subtle, then gradually more blatant, culminating in a complaint from a colleague of Jassim's to the local office of the FBI. His suspicious behavior, however, is a result of the overwhelming guilt he feels after his car accidentally hits and kills a skateboarder. Jassim is exonerated, but he doesn't tell Salwa about the boy's death, just plods on, as if he had wandered into someone else's life. Salwa, too, has been drifting away from Jassim, first hiding from him her miscarriage, then engaging in an affair with a coworker. Halaby perceptively examines the everyday realities of the immigrant experience through convincingly drawn characters who reflect Salwa's deep-seated belief that in America, wishes don't come true for Arabs. --Deborah Donovan Copyright 2006 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review
In this trial of post-9/11 America, a Jordanian couple enjoys the spoils of freedom until fate curdles their dreams. Living in Tucson, Ariz., husband Jassim is a hydrologist with an immigrant's-eye view of the States as a place of "stainless steel promises... and possibility." His wife, Salwa, also believes in a country where anything from "a house in the foothills to sex with a co-worker" could be yours. But after the "crazy suicide" that destroys the Twin Towers, their idyllic lives are torpedoed; paranoid bigotry, patriotism run amok and a baseless FBI investigation are only the beginning. Compounding the suspicion, Jassim is involved in a fatal car accident and SalwaAhaunted by a miscarriage and confused by the affections of another manAsends large amounts of money back home. Halaby (West of the Jordan) uses this second novel to zero in on clashing cultures and lob rhetorical Molotov cocktails against the land of "antennas to God." Her prose crackles, but at the expense of her characters, whose inner lives are unconvincing even as their circumstances are awfully real. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Library Journal Review
A PEN Beyond Margins winner for her first novel, West of the Jordan, Halaby sets her new work around the time of the 9/11 attacks. Jassim and Salwa Haddad, an Arabic couple living in Arizona, feel the effects of the country's changed attitude far from New York. While dealing with this greater tragedy, Jassim and Salwa must also deal with personal troubles that change their marriage forever. Jassim accidentally kills a teenage boy while driving home from his daily swim, and Salwa confronts the miscarriage of a baby she never told her husband about. The emotional impact of both events propels each into the arms of another, as Jassim searches for someone he can confide in and Salwa thinks she finds romance with a young American coworker with a secret of his own. Cultures collide, and what was once considered taboo may not be what it seems. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries, this novel would make a thought-provoking book club choice.-Leann Restaino, Girard, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Laila Halaby was born in Beirut, Lebanon, to a Jordanian father and an American mother. She speaks four languages, won a Fulbright scholarship to study folklore in Jordan, and holds a master's degree in Arabic literature. Her first novel, West of the Jordan , won the prestigious PEN Beyond Margins Award. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her family. Visit www.lailahalaby.net for more information on Laila Halaby and her work.