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Dancing Into the Light: An Arab American Girlhood in the Middle East
Kathryn K. Abdul-baki
Abdul-Baki’s memoir is a vivid and evocative narrative about a childhood spent amidst the expat American community in the Middle East. When Jean Pedigo, a strong minded Tennessee girl and Khalil Karjawally, an Arab from Jerusalem meet in Washington D.C., fall in love and get married, Jean’s parents are apprehensive. A year later, Kathryn is born. In 1958, the family moves to Tehran as Kal (Khalil) takes up a job there, later moving to Kuwait. With vacations spent in Jerusalem and Honolulu, the young Kathryn becomes increasingly aware of her Arab and American identities and the conflicts inherent in them. Jean dies of cancer and life for Kathryn changes forever.

Abdul-Baki’s lucid prose and rich descriptions brings the surroundings and the people alive. It brings to life a child’s wonder and fascination for new surroundings as well as her fear and anxiety about the strange unknown. Kathryn’s deep love and admiration for her mother is threaded through the memoir. Like any child of a strong mother, she is constantly aware of how different she is from her, at the same time aspiring to be like her when she grows up. Some of the most poignant chapters are those dealing with the aftermath of her mother’s death, an experience she details with warmth and resonant insight.

Her father’s gradual change from a more liberal American parent to a more conservative Arab one is also delineated with love and sensitivity. However, readers may wish the author had included more of her own conflicts with her twin identities, her struggles, triumphs and defeats. Her eventual acceptance of who she is, as well as her fascinating relationship with dance, also plays a role in the memoir’s depth. Though short, the interludes where she describes her very physical and sensual love for dance and its healing effect on her, and her desire to express her sexuality and womanhood through it, add to the richness of the story, making it an immersive read.

Takeaway: Richly described memoir of a mid-century Arab-American childhood in the Middle East.

Comparable Titles: Elizabeth Warnock Fernea’s Remembering Childhood in the Middle East, Ibtisam Barakat’s Tasting the Sky.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A