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I Was Their American Dream

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I Was Their American Dream back

Malaka Gharib


Page 45 Review by Jonathan

"Even amongst minorities, I was a minority.
"Everyone in high school hung out with people based on clubs, sports, ethnicity.
"Who'd be my friend?"

Making friends at school is a turbulent voyage of discovery at the best of times, but when you're grappling with trying to understand the personal puzzle of being half-Filipino, half-Egyptian plus half-Catholic, half-Muslim all the whilst longing fervently to be all-American and indeed white, well it's bound to make it all that little bit trickier!

Billed by the publisher as being one part Mari AM I THERE YET? THE LOOP-DE-LOOP, ZIGZAGGING JOURNEY TO ADULTHOOD, one part Marjane PERSEPOLIS Satrapi, I personally found this very similar in tone, illustrative style and humour to the hilariously excellent THE IMPOSTER'S DAUGHTER by Laurie Sandell.

I found the way the adult Malaka dissects her teenage insecurities very artfully and amusingly done, with real understanding of the models of thinking she was working through, well, conditioning herself with and also being conditioned by others, at the time. As a study of identity, this works on multiple levels: first simply that of the individual, of being a child of two very differing heritages, but also as the child of immigrants and then as a first-generation American.

Indeed, when her parents split up and her father returns to Egypt - the irony being that he was desperate to come to America all his life whereas her mother was distraught to be sent there as her family had a wonderful, privileged upper class life in the Philippines - we also see Malaka struggle to fit in to Egyptian society and step-family life during her school holiday visits.

She's incredibly honest about her frequent faux pas when attempting to ingratiate herself with others and integrate socially, but it is always done with humour. You never get the sense that she's looking back feeling sorry for herself. That may well be because she seems to have got herself completely sorted out now, including getting married to a delightful chap called Darren, but even there her in-depth analysis of her choice of life partner is conducted with agonising, if very amusing scrutiny. Equally, and importantly, it doesn't feel self-deprecating either. You never feel like she is doing herself down just to get the laughs. It is just acutely well observed.

What this work proves perfectly is that you don't have to have done the most extraordinary things or been to the most fascinating places to product an absolutely absorbing memoir. Having read this I feel like I got to know the teenage Malaka and her very diverse family members as well as if I was one of them myself.