Looking for Palestine
Najla Said is Palestinian, Lebanese, American, Christian, and Quaker. She was born and raised on the Upper East Side in New York, the daughter of the famous scholar Edward Said. Much of her memoir focuses on growing up in her Arab-American family, and her relationship with her father. Probably the most famous Palestinian intellectual, Said’s Orientalism (published 1979) delves into the idea of how Orientalism is the patronizing Western perception of the Arab world as exotic, anti-modern and anti-intellectual. Najla does not go into an intellectual critique of the Western world, but on the complexities and contradictions of her own identity. The memoir begins:
I am a Palestinian-Lebanese-American Christian woman, but I grew up as a Jew in New York City. I began my life, however, as a WASP.
From there, she dives into a remarkable look into the identity of an Arab-American woman. Her writing is very matter-of-fact; she speaks bluntly about her struggles with assimilation, an eating disorder, and feeling terrified to admit she was Palestinian to her Jewish friends. She was so inundated with stereotypes in America of what an Arab was (scary, terrorist, violent) that she pushed away the Arab identity for so long. I found the memoir to be very engaging, in particular when it turned Edward Said from this inaccessible and famous figure to one who was very familiar. In an interview with Vogue, Najla says:
I think that for so long I really wanted to find out if I was more “Arab” or more “American,” as if there was some definitive answer to that question, since “Arab-American” never seemed to feel as though it fit properly. In writing the book, I was able to really dive into the questions I had about my so-called “real identity” and ultimately understand that they were probably never going to be resolved. In an interesting way, that is also what I felt connected me to my father’s work and his legacy. He was a person who hated labels and saw himself as a true exile from all sorts of cultural identifications.
Ultimately an interesting look into one woman's tale of coming into her identity. Rating: ★★★★