Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Inheritance of Exile: Stories from South Philly by Susan Muaddi Darraj (with interview and giveaway)

Back in April, I had the pleasure of hearing Susan Muaddi Darraj read from her collection of stories, The Inheritance of Exile: Stories from South Philly. The reading was the kickoff for a writer's conference I attended the next day with Serena (you can read about my experience here). The excerpt Muaddi Darraj read pulled me in right away, and I snagged a copy of the book at the end of the reading. (She even signed it while I sat there staring dumbly because I never know what to say to an author when they're standing right in front of me.)

It only took me two days of commuter reading to finish The Inheritance of Exile. These stories--which can stand alone but fit perfectly together as a novel--focus on four Arab-American women, friend who grew up together in Philadelphia. Nadia, whose mother won't let her tell her boyfriend about the extent of her injuries from a car accident because it would shame his family; Aliyah, a writer who clashes with her parents when she inserts true family stories into her fiction and who meets a man during a summer visit to Ramallah and realizes she's too Arab to be an American and too American to be an Arab; Hanan, whose decision to marry an American drives a wedge between her and her mother and who later realizes her husband doesn't understand her; and Reema, whose boyfriend is obsessed with the idea of Arabian harems and gets all of his ideas about her culture from old movies.

In weaving in stories of their mothers, who are Palestinian immigrants, The Inheritance of Exile reminds me a lot of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club (which is a good thing because The Joy Luck Club is among my all-time favorite books). Cultural tensions abound, but there also is a sense of fierce love, of a mother's desire for her daughter to accomplish more than she did in her homeland. Here are two passages from Hanan's story, "Preparing a Face," that illustrate these tensions:

She walked out of the kitchen, out of the house, though before the door closed, she heard her mother say, "That's how she is, my American daughter--if she doesn't like something, she leaves. Too busy for us stupid Arabs. She thinks she hurts us by doing that." (page 85)

"So you fight with your mother, it seems," said Rola, moving closer to her. Hanan felt suddenly protective of her. "Does it happen very much?"

"Once in awhile," said Hanan. "She thinks I should be some perfect Arabic girl, you know, that I should enjoy making cookies and looking for a husband." (page 91)

Muaddi Darraj does a wonderful job moving between the characters and the stories, giving each a distinctive voice. The stories flowed so beautifully and read so easily that it wasn't long before I turned the last page, and it was sad, feeling like I'd closed the door on old friends. I don't know what it's like to live with immigrant parents (my mom was 3 when she moved to the U.S. from Germany and doesn't remember anything about her life there), nor do I know what it's like to feel like I don't belong, but Muaddi Darraj made it easy to connect with and feel for her characters. This is one of those few books I could read again and again.

I might not have known what to say when I briefly met Susan at the pre-conference reading, but I had no problem asking her questions via email, and Susan graciously answered them all!

Is The Inheritance of Exile inspired by personal experience?

Everyone asks me this, and the answer is yes and no. "Yes" in the sense that it is set in a neighborhood where I grew up--the St. Nicholas of Tolentine parish on 9th and Watkins Streets in South Philly--but "no" in that none of the events in the lives of the characters happened to me or to anyone I know. Of course, generational conflicts, intercultural tensions are things that I experienced, too, but not in the specific ways that my characters did.

Which of the characters, if any, are you most like? Has your family been supportive of your need to write about the immigrant experience and clashes between immigrants and their American children?

I guess I am most like Aliyah, the one who is a writer. Again, though, I have a father--unlike Aliyah's--who encouraged me to write, without limitations on subject. He was and is always supportive of what I do. I guess in Aliyah's story, I tried to imagine, "What if I did NOT have that support? How would things be different?"

I come from a family of readers: my father is a literary reader, and he especially loves poetry. I have said in the past that he used to walk around the house, doing chores, etc., and just recite passages of Arabic poetry from memory. My mother is more of a nonfiction reader, and she taught me how to read--how to put words and sounds together--when I was a child, before I even started school. She used to read books to my brothers and me all the time, take us to the library on a regular basis. My father always told us stories at night, before bedtime, stories that he would make up to entertain us.

What is your favorite story in the book? Was there one that was harder to write or more personal than the others?

Probably "The Journey Home" was most difficult to write. I had to stretch my imagination there, because Hanan has such a tense relationship with her mother, whereas for me, my mother and I are quite like best friends.

Do you have a particular writing routine? Where is your favorite place to write?

Right now, I have two toddlers at home and a third baby on the way, so my writing/reading time has been traded away for Eric Carle and Dr.Seuss books! I do snatch away some writing time during the Christmas holiday and summertime, when I am not teaching. Once in a while, I go back to my old routine, which was getting up early--by 5am--and writing until 8am or so... that was always my favorite time and most productive time.

What is the best book you've read this year?

The Map of Home by Randa Jarrar

Are you working on another book? If so, could you give us a hint as to what it's about?

I'm halfway through a novel, although it is still "forming"--I may cut out a lot of what I have already written as it gels.

Any advice to aspiring novelists?

Just write a lot and read even more. Reading is the best education for a writer. It's also useful to read magazines of the writing profession, like Poets & Writers and The Writer's Chronicle, which often have terrific essays on craft.

Susan, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions! I wish you the best in your writing endeavors! And congratulations on the new baby!

If you'd like a chance to win a signed copy of Susan Muaddi Darraj's The Inheritance of Exile: Stories from South Philly, please leave a comment on this post and include your email address. (If I don't have a way to contact you, either through email or a blog, your entry won't be counted!) The giveaway is open internationally and will end at midnight EST on Dec. 17.

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of The Inheritance of Exile: Stories From South Philly from a writer's conference.  I was not obligated to review it.


Anonymous said...

I love Philadelphia and I love reading books that are set in places that are familiar to me. I'd love to win this! milou2ster(at)

Linda said...

I would love to win, and read this book. As our world becomes more and more a global community, it is so important to understand other cultures.
lcbrower40 at

Bridget said...

I've posted this on Win A Book. No need to enter the contest.

Tricia said...

Sounds fab and I love the cover art too. Please enter me!

ElleVee said...

Enter me: veeandloathing[@]

Anonymous said...

this sounds like a great book and something that I would totally love to read..:) and it's nice that you are actually giving away a copy.. you have to definitely enter me for this!:)

Anonymous said...

Fantastic, plz enter me. I would love to win this too.

Anonymous said...

I would love to entered. Thanks.

djecse at yahoo dot com

avalonne83 said...

Sounds really great!!!
Please enter me. Thanks.

avalonne83 [at] yahoo [dot] it

Serena said...

yes, I know that I could simply borrow your copy from the conference, but what would be the sense when I could possibly win my own copy?! There would be no count me in.

I had a hard time choosing at the end of the kickoff reading. . .but I'm glad that we got different books.

savvyverseandwit AT gmail DOT com

Alessandra said...

Please enter me! It sounds like a good book, and I love the cover art.


Megan said...

This sounds like an excellent book that I would be *very* interested in winning... :-)

toadacious1 at yahoo dot com

Alyce said...

I don't think I've ever read anything set in Philadelphia, but this book sounds like it would be fun to read.
akreese(at) hotmail (dot) com

Keyo said...

Hey Anna,
Very fascinating...Please include me for this book too!

Anonymous said...

anna - I'm right with you on being tongue-tied when meeting authors face-to-face. I saw Gregory Maguire this weekend (3rd time), and AGAIN couldn't speak. I'm pretty good with most authors now, but he still makes me mute.

I'd love the opportunity to read/review this book. I enjoy reading about other cultures, especially those that assimilate (or not) into American communities.


p.s. did you change your header, or have I been unobservant?

Darlene said...

With such a recommendation from you Anna this sounds like a must read. I'd love to be entered.

Anonymous said...

Oh oh oh I live in Philly!! Not South though but still! I would love to win this book~


Jeannie said...

Argh...if this was on Kindle, I'd buy it RIGHT NOW! I guess I'll have to see if I still have any luck. Please do enter me in the contest. Thanks, Anna.

P.S. I like the new picture with the title- the yarn and the books. Very pretty! :)

darbyscloset said...

Yes, I would like to win this book fpr so many reasons, one being we never know anothers life until we walk in their shoes....
Thanks so much for the opportunity!
darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

bison61 said...

I would love to win, and read this book.

tiramisu392 (at)

Colette S said...

I'm a book worm! I hope to win

Anonymous said...

I'd love to win this book, it sounds pretty interesting ^^


Simply Stacie said...

I love to read. Please enter me.

Megan said...

This sounds like a great book~ Please sign me up!


a real librarian said...

Sounds like an awesome book! Thanks for the giveaway!


Me... said...

Wow! This looks great! Thanks for the opportunity!

daq_17 at hotmail dot com

Corinne said...

Yeah, this looks like one I'd really like. Wahoo!

sheelysmom at gmail dot com

Teddy Rose said...

This book sounds wonderful. I loved your review and the interview.

I would love to win and will include your giveaway in weekly "Giveaways Galore" post on my blog tomorrow.

bevsclark said...

Sounds like a fascinating read. Please include me in the drawing.

Shana said...

Anna, okay, you comparing this to Amy Tan and The Joy Luck Club definitely gets my attention. I love the cover too.

I always stand and stare dumbly at author events too. I feel like such a dork! The last time I did it was with Laura and Jena Bush and my friend and I discussed what we would say while we were waiting in line. But once I was actually there, I said a big old NOTHING.


thebluerose said...

I would like to enter.

ttt1612 AT yahoo DOT com

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

Two commuter days, huh? Pretty good! This one sounds really intriguing. I haven't read Joy Luck Club, but I've been meaning to get to that one as well. Having family members who were immigrants makes me really interested in these types of stories. I'd love to be entered!

The Bookworm said...

this sounds like a great book, very interesting.
great interview!

Carol M said...

This sounds like a good book! I would love to read it! Thank you!
Carol m
mittens0831 AT

Asylumgirl said...

Very interesting. Enter me please.

deidre_durance at hotmail dot com

Marie Cloutier said...

The Inheritance of Exile sounds wonderful and I'd love to be entered in the giveaway. My email is bibliophile at bostonbibliophile dot com. thanks for running the giveaway and for the great review!

Marie said...

I'd love to be entered to win this book. It sounds great and the cover is beautiful. Thanks.


tanabata said...

This sounds really good. I love reading immigrant stories, and about cultural differences. I'd love to have my name in for a chance to win.

tanabata2000 at gmail dot com

Wrighty said...

I thought this sounded like the Joy Luck Club too. Very similar story and it sounds good. I look forward to reading it. Susan is going to be a very busy mommy soon! I hope she'll have the time to write even more. Please include me and thanks for your contest. Happy holidays!

Blodeuedd said...

Contest, yay, sign me up :)
This book sounds so interesting, I am intrigued.

Jenna said...

Sounds very interesting. Thanks for the giveaway!

jenna_dejonge at hotmail dot com

Anonymous said...

Awesome review... I felt your feelings written there :)
I have not read Joy Book Club and now I am going to go and get it to :)
You know Anna, sometimes it is not important to go out of ur country to feel different/not belonging kinds... I lives my early life in Northern India... and then I had to SOuthern parts... which [ if u will believe me] is so so different. The culture the people everything... every minute of my being there... i felt so left out.. and so furious with the decision of moving...
but now i feel different... I mean it is good to have moved and known things the way i now know :)

I would love to win this boko too.. enter me.. and THANKS for such cool giveaways :) u r an amazing book blogger :)

Anonymous said...

lots of typs in my comment.. for give me :(

hope u understand what i have written there :)

S. Krishna said...

this book sounds amazing - i'd love to be entered!

Anna said...

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest! Sorry I didn't have a chance to respond to each comment, but the holiday season is really hectic. I appreciate you all stopping by!

Wendi said...

Great interview!! :)

Your interview has been added to About the Author - An Author Interview Index!

~ Wendi

Anna said...

Thanks, Wendi!