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Ayser Salman’s memoir The Wrong End of the Table is a story of awkward childhood-teen antics and trying to figure out who you are when you have so many different cultures pulling you in different directions. Salman arrives in the U.S. with her family after they leave fascist Iraq in the 1980s. Figuring out who you are is no easy task and figuring out who you are as a Muslim, an Arab, an American, a woman, and an immigrant just feels like a lot of extra stress if you ask me. Salman, however, never bemoans her fate and through every twist and turn she finds a way to love, live, and learn from her multifaceted upbringing.
Throughout Salman’s memoir you see the juxtaposition between her own experiences growing up as an immigrant child in the U.S. and her parents experiences who obviously came to America as adults. I don’t know which experience is harder, but suffice to say that immigration is just hard. My husband is Brazilian, I am Australian, and we live in Switzerland, so I can only attest to the struggles and frustrations you have when trying to figure out new lands, languages, and cultures. In some ways, I do wonder if immigrating as a kid has its positives as young children can adapt a bit easier to new things around them. As Salman points out, her parents still had a thick accent and probably struggled a lot more to align their Iraqi culture with American culture than she, as a child, did.
One of the themes throughout Salman’s memoir is her often hilarious struggles to find a balance between her different identities. She talks of a time before ‘intersectional’ feminism and what it was like to feel like you had to pick a side. She brings up white-passing, which is something that many Arabs can do, and the struggles of navigating life with other minorities.
The catalyst for her life and how she is perceived by the world is definitely the 11th of September 2001. This event changed the world and how we live and travel in it. Furthermore, as a Muslim Arab the rise of Islamophobia only seemed to exponentially increase after this date. Again, it is this navigating of inbetweenness that Salman struggles with throughout her life. Yet she does it with a lot of laughs and fun. Her relationship with her parents (see all of her footnotes) is just hilarious. The universality of her relationship with them reinforces that love and family transcend cultures. We are at the core, humans.
Salman’s memoir is an important addition to the cannon of Arab American literature in the way that it offers new insights into love, dating, and identity. Her writing is extremely honest and heartfelt and I would describe her style as Nora-Ephron-esque. In between the laughs there are some really hard truths about being a Muslim Arab American in the U.S. today and I think it is this balance of comedy and heartfelt truth that will win over any reader.
What books by Arab Americans have you read? Will you be picking up Salman’s memoir March 5th, 2019? As always, share the reading love.
NOTE: This novel was was accessed through Netgalley and Skyhorse Publishing for review purposes. Expected publication is 5th March 2019.