Diana Abu-Jaber was born in Syracuse to an American mother and a Jordanian father. When she
Diana Abu-Jaber was born in Syracuse to an American mother and a Jordanian father. When she was seven, her family moved to Jordan for two years, and she has lived between the US and Jordan ever since. Life was a constant juggling act, acting Arab at home but American in the street. The struggle to make sense of this sort of hybrid life, or “in-betweenness,” permeates Abu-Jaber’s fiction.
Her first novel, Arabian Jazz—considered by many to be the first mainstream Arab-American novel—won the 1994 Oregon Book Award. Jean Grant of The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs wrote, “Abu-Jaber’s novel will probably do more to convince readers to abandon what media analyst Jack Shaheen calls America’s ‘abhorrence of the Arab’ than any number of speeches or publicity gambits.”
Her second novel, Crescent, inspired by Shakespeare’s Othello, is set in contemporary Los Angeles and focuses on a multicultural love story between an Iraqi exile and an Iraqi-American chef. Lush and lyrical, suffused with the flavors and scents of Middle Eastern food, Crescent is a sensuous love story as well as a gripping tale of commitment and risk. It won the PEN Center Award for Literary Fiction and the American Book Award, and has been published in eight countries.
Again using food as the fulcrum of her narrative, Abu-Jaber’s next book—the culinary memoir The Language of Baklava—chronicles her own experiences growing up in a food-obsessed Arab-American family. O, The Oprah Magazine called The Language of Baklava “a fascinating memoir of confused exile, great food, and home truths” that explores the rootlessness and constant pressures of assimilation. Each chapter of the memoir is developed around one of her father’s traditional Middle Eastern recipes.
Origin, a page-turner set in the author’s hometown of Syracuse, explores issues of memory and identity. Origin was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The Chicago Tribune. Abu-Jaber’s next novel was also an award-winner: Birds of Paradise, which won the National Arab American Book Award, is a deeply moving portrait of a family falling apart after their teenage daughter runs away.
Abu-Jaber’s most recent memoir is Life Without a Recipe: A Memoir of Food and Family. Funny, touching, and smart, Life Without a Recipe is a celebration of improvisation, of unexpected detours, and of living life on one’s own terms. Ruth Reichl has called it “indispensable to anyone trying to forge their own truer path.”
“I grew up inside the shape of my father’s stories. A Jordanian immigrant, Dad regaled us with tales about himself, his country, and his family that both entertained us and instructed us about the place he’d come from and the way he saw the world. These stories exerted a powerful influence on my imagination, in terms of what I chose to write about, the style of my language, and the form my own stories took.” —Diana Abu-Jaber
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