Professional Book Nerds Podcast

Ep. #197 - Malu Halasa on Middle Eastern Literature and Christina shares some reading recs.

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On today's episode, Adam and Jill interview Malu Halasa about her novel Mother of all Pigs, middle eastern literature and taking a look at stories from a different angle than you might expect. 

Before that conversation, Christina joins Adam for the intro to hand out book recommendations and discuss audiobook listening. 

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The Times Literary Supplement

Regional conflict


Mother of All Pigs is the incisive debut novel of the London-based Jordanian-Filipina-American writer and critic Malu Halasa. As that globe-roaming biography might indicate, Halasa brings a worldly eye to her subject: a small-town Jordanian family, which includes the matriarch Fadhma, her academic daughter-in-law Laila, Laila’s drunken husband Hussein (a pig butcher) and a visiting American cousin, all driven by unspoken hopes, fears, rivalries, regrets and ambitions. When an acquaintance from Hussein’s military past resurfaces, these conflicts rise to the surface.

To describe this novel as a “saga” would be to undercut its acute understanding of the power dynamics in Jordan and, more broadly, the Middle East. Gender, class, religion, military history, the consequences of war and displacement all leave their mark on the characters’ mistrustful psyches, on the unequal society, the tough economy, the landscape itself. Halasa is a prolific writer who has confronted these ideas in previous…

The Los Angeles Review


Reviewed by Katharine Coldiron

“Women are a bridge to the future,” the Syrian freedom fighter Zeinab intones during a clandestine meeting in Malu Halasa’s new novel. “Women are the donkeys of tradition. Women are caregivers and self-obsessed. They suffocate and love. They abuse and they suffer. The killer or the victim, which one are you?”

The same question might be asked of the title creature, Umm al-Khanaazeer, literally “the mother of all pigs,” who is smuggled into a small town in Jordan and kept secretly as a breeder sow before the start of the novel that bears her name. Umm al-Khanaazeer’s descendants are made into forbidden pork products which are then sold to Christians as well as unobservant Muslims and Jews. The Mother herself remains in a hidden barn, fattened and walled off from the sausage machine grinding up her children, even narrating portions of the novel with human intelligence. Ultimately, she is slaughtered, because that is usually the fate of women in the culture depicted in this difficult, rewarding novel: hidden, bred, exploited, and destroyed.

Women and men perform the dance of power intricately in this book. Women assemble in tiny homes and secret cafés to laugh and scream about oppressive norms, whether these persist in the village or in neighboring countries. In one marriage, a woman experiences genuine pleasure with her husband, without shame; in other marriages, a man might refer to his wife only as Umm-Omar, “the mother of Omar,” rather than by her given name. Women keep their husbands and sons from disaster, power the movement to help refugees, and teach each other how to survive scrutiny of every color and accessory they wear in public. Meanwhile, men are alcoholics, driven by greed, foolish, or murderously devoted to their faith. Hardly anyone finds a reasonable middle path to walk.

Appropriately, there is no safe conclusion to the story, no point where marriages are repaired, a shopkeeper stops trading sexual favors for goods, or the beautiful blouse a cousin brings from America may be worn on the street without reprisal. The book ends with a wedding, like a Western comedy might, but also in violent death, like a Western tragedy might. The contradictions of female identity, abuser or sufferer, killer or victim, remain unresolved.

The most fascinating part of Halasa’s depiction of life in Jordan is the heterogenous religious beliefs swirling in the air. Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Muslims mingle daily, if uncomfortably. In an early scene, only a recording of a Fiddler on the Roof medley played by the marching band of the Emir of Kuwait can soothe Umm al-Khanaazeer. Such surreal cultural mashups infect every aspect of life in the book. But this blend of beliefs can be deadly as well as funny. As a terrorist instructs a young freedom fighter:

“Have you ever considered, little sister, that we both fight on the same side? Everywhere our people suffer. At this very moment some are bombed or tortured or live starving under siege. Life without fear is the preserve of the wealthy, never the poor. In this world, an individual is powerless.”

In the next breath, he says that sharia is the only way back to stability and power.

Halasa’s long expertise at nonfiction peeps through in Mother of All Pigs, her first novel, as some scenes fall flat, and some dialogue conveys information or exposition without grace. It’s a slow-starting book, and quite challenging at first to keep all the characters and their familial relations straight. We meet Hussein, his stepmother, her daughters, their cousin, her great-uncle, his shop-boy, and so on, all within the first thirty pages. The political views, and the personal histories, of these people bring them each to life, but it takes time to get there.

However, once the characters become clear, and the backstory slows to a trickle, and the genuine action begins, the novel soars, like a bird of prey, surveying all beneath it with incisive vision. In the next moment, the characters’ choices and interactions fascinate and worry the reader as potently and intimately as those of real-life friends or family members. Halasa causes us to know these people closely, to mourn and celebrate with them.  She forces the Western reader to imagine life in a small Jordanian town, to truly think about what refugees must withstand, and to listen well to the stories and aphorisms of Arab life. Western storytelling does not compare in complexity to what a father imparts to his son, a veteran, in his sickbed.

“One day Abu Nuwas asked for his master’s blessing so he could compose and recite his own poems in public. The experienced Khalaf al-Ahmar said that he would gladly do that, but first Abu Nuwas needed to undergo a trial by words and memorize one thousand verses. The undertaking was long and difficult, but Abu Nuwas was eventually successful. To celebrate, he honored his master by giving him a lavish feast over the course of several evenings, during which the younger poet recited the verses he learned by heart. After Abu Nuwas declaimed the last triumphant couplet, he again asked his master for his blessing. Khalaf al-Ahmar was undoubtedly impressed, but before he could agree, one more small task was required of the poet-to-be, whose life and career would eclipse that of his master’s. He had to forget each and every one of the verses he committed to memory.”

Al Jid fanned the hot bowl of the water pipe with his open hand until the embers glowed.

“In his great wisdom, Khalaf al-Ahmar explained that for immortal composition, one needed to know everything and to forget everything.” The old man regarded his wounded son. “Memory and forgetfulness will enable you to live your life.”

Yet Halasa has written a book that’s hard to forget, one that opens the vistas of the Western mind insistently, necessarily. The deviousness and caution of daily life for a woman; the despair and nepotism of daily life for a man; the death and disaster that hovers at an uneasy distance in the Holy Lands nearby. All these Halasa depicts in urgent prose, in colorful scenes, in unavoidable violence. 


Katharine Coldiron’s work has appeared in Ms., The Rumpus, Brevity, and elsewhere. She lives in California and blogs at The Fictator (



New York Times

First Novels Tackle Sexism and Prejudice, Past and Present

By JAN STUARTNOV. 22, 2017

“It has always been the same — what men enjoy, women endure.” So says a character in this microcosmic portrait of the contemporary Middle East, where the generational shifts among the members of one Jordanian clan showcase a patriarchal order in slow-motion decline. Halasa’s pungently witty and occasionally uneven novel contrasts the ways in which the women of the Sabas family embrace or push back against tradition. Their progressive face is shown by outspoken Samira, who performs covert missions for a group of Syrian women activists. Representing the old school is the matriarch, Mother Fadhma, who, having derived her primary sense of self-worth from the raising of 13 children and stepchildren, finds an odd ally in the prolifically pregnant sow acquired by her butcher stepson to replenish his pork inventory. Frightened by the town’s Islamic fundamentalism, Fadhma rails against the man who put him up to it: her own brother, who scavenges contraband merchandise from the detritus of war.

While the Samira episodes are freighted by her earnest propensity to editorialize, the chapters showcasing Mother Fadhma, her brother and her fractious daughter-in-law exhibit some of the verve and complexity of Naguib Mahfouz’s incomparable “Cairo Trilogy.” Halasa, a Jordanian Filipina American who has written extensively on Syria, Iran and Lebanon, has an eye for the comic paradoxes of provincial Arab communities whose elders were once forbidden to utter the word “Israel” and whose children now listen to recordings of the emir of Kuwait’s marching band performing melodies from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Chicago Maroon

Malu Halasa's "Mother of all Pigs" is a Novel for All Readers

By Jad Dahshan

On the evening of November 3, in the intimate inner rooms of 57th Street Books, author Malu Halasa engaged in a discussion with Adam Morgan about her debut novel, Mother of All Pigs, as a part of the Seminary Co-Op’s Open Stacks podcast. Halasa discussed the journey of writing the book, how the book differed from her previous non-fictional works, and the current “moment of great transition” in the Middle East that is reflected in the literature produced there.

Born in Oklahoma and raised in Ohio, Halasa is of Jordanian and Filipina origin and has spent a significant part of her career writing and reporting in and about the Middle East. Halasa’s Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie: Intimacy and Design is a 2008 collection of essays and interviews that dives into the “previously unknown racy lingerie culture in the factories of Damascus,” while Transit Tehran: Young Iran and Its Inspirationsis a series of anthologies showcasing art and literature from Beirut and Tehran. However, as a writer and activist, Halasa knew that her non-fictional oeuvre could only go so far in altering people’s perceptions about the Middle East when her audience was primarily an academic one. With Mother of All Pigs, she explores how storytelling can inspire social change by appealing to a wider readership in a subtler, more empathetic way.

Mother of All Pigs began in the 1990s as a personal exploration of Halasa’s family’s mysterious history, but it later evolved into something beyond an autobiography. Although many characters were based on actual acquaintances and relatives—like Muna, who comes from the same diverse ethnic background as the author (but nothing else, Halasa added laughingly)—the cross-generational narratives in the book can easily apply to any family living in contemporary Jordan. This is especially true of Arab families splintered by their younger members’ immigration into foreign countries, yielding a hybrid youth culture occupying a liminal position between two radically different societies. Halasa described mixed Arab families like Muna’s as “the new face of the Middle East.”

The cover of the novel was designed by the Palestinian artist Majd Masri as a part of her Haphazard Synchronizations series. Halasa describes the figure on the cover of the novel as representative of a generation younger than her own, one torn between the post­-Arab Spring polarities of peace and violence in a politically animated landscape. The woman confronting readers with a daisy in her mouth and rifle in her hand could be Samira, a member of the Sabas family, which the novel centers around. Intermittently transitioning from the anxieties faced by a pork butcher in an Islamic community, to the trauma-induced worries of a mother abandoned by expatriate offspring, to the profit-motivated fears of a black marketer, the novel intricately illustrates the malaise faced by the inhabitants of a small Jordanian town on the fringes of military conflict. Ultimately, the story is encapsulated by the opening line of the novel: “Disappointment burns like desertification.”

Yet, as Halasa emphatically expounded during the event, her book aims to dispel the dust cloud of disillusionment and terrorism espoused by major media outlets about the Middle East. Instead, she succeeds in taking readers beyond the haze of stereotypes to reveal the cultural richness, dark humor, and complexity that characterize contemporary life in the Middle East. This exists particularly in states like Jordan, a semi-conservative space constantly challenged by the abrupt yet continual influx of refugees over the years. For such an accurate rendition of Jordanian life, Halasa maintains that her work is veritably an American novel, exhibiting a form of storytelling more redolent of Western literature than of the Arabic variety. However, as Halasa pointed out with excitement, this disparity is changing as exceedingly more Arab writers adopt more experimental modes of literary production, a movement spurred by contemporary political tensions.

Available for sale online as well as at 57th Street Books, Mother of All Pigs tackles topics ranging from dysfunctional family dynamics and the patriarchy to revolution and gender roles. Yet it still manages to balance solemnity with a witty light-heartedness. Whether through valuable insight into the Middle East or through thyme-tasting nostalgia, Halasa’s debut has something to offer any reader: American, Arab, or both.


Malu Halasa's Debut Novel, Mother of all Pigs, Highlights a Complex and Evolving World

By Marcia Lynx Qualey

It’s surprising to discover that Malu Halasa began work on her novel Mother of all Pigs not in 2013 or 2014, in the midst of the Syrian civil war, but in the 1990s. 

Yet a second look reveals the decades in each of the novel’s layered conflicts. The book is set in contemporary Jordan, which has been both refuge and battleground in many regional conflicts. The novel has detritus and survivors from many of them, including the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War, the Palestinian dispossessions, the US bombing of Afghanistan, the US-led invasion of Iraq and subsequent war, as well as, most recently, the rending apart of Syria. 

The London-based Halasa, who experienced some of these conflicts as a journalist living in the region, says many things have changed since she started writing Mother of All Pigs. But some things, such as the role of patriarchy in Jordan, have not.

The book that Halasa has mulled over for decades is about “the tensions inside the family and the social tensions outside,” and it centers on the women of the extended Sabas family. There is Mama Fadhma, who has watched most of her children and stepchildren leave for the US; Fadhma’s step-daughter-in-law Laila, an ambitious schoolteacher and mother; Fadhma’s daughter Samira, who lost her way after a failed affair, then found it again through work with Syrian activists; and the painfully naïve American niece, Muna.

The book begins and ends around one overloaded weekend, when the larger community pressures the Sabas family to shut down their pig-butchery business. At the same time, Samira is carrying a package for her Syrian-refugee friends, an old military acquaintance arrives, and the visiting American cousin, Muna, changes the family’s dynamic.

Halasa hastens to say that she isn’t Muna, although both the author and her character are half-Jordanian, half-Filipina, and both were raised in the United States. While the novel is not autobiographical, there are other points of intersection. One of Halasa’s uncles, for instance, owned a pig farm in the mountains of Jordan. 

There is also a real-life model behind the book’s “Marvellous Emporium,” the site of some of the book’s blackest humor. The fictional store is owned by Abu Za’atar, Mama Fadhma’s treacherous brother. Here, you can find anything from an overstock of golf shirts, to food beyond its sell-by date, to spare parts from defunct air-conditioning units, to several generations of Russian and US-made weaponry. 

Inside the (real) Marvellous Emporium

Halasa discovered the “real” Marvellous Emporium in Zahlé, Lebanon in 1979, when she was living in Damascus and working for Rolling Stone. At the time, she was trying to get an interview with Yasser Arafat, who was then in Beirut. With Lebanon at war and the PLO in the thick of it, access was difficult. But someone in the Palestinian Fatah party had given Halasa access to a car, and she could “catch a ride with him from Damascus, and we’d use a military road, between Damascus and Beirut.” They’d stop at the store in Zahlé, where “he would fill the car up with everything.”

In the novel, the Marvellous Emporium is a place for Abu Za’atar to spin webs and earn piles of money. But it’s also a place where history gathers.

“In places of war, there are always going to be these points where goods and services are brought together,” Halasa said. “I wanted the Marvellous Emporium to be that point, where war and corruption happens, but also a kind of history machine.”

Working at cross-purposes with Abu Za’atar is his niece Samira, perhaps the book’s most sympathetic character. After a failed love affair, she dropped out of school and sat around the house. Everything changed when she met a group of Syrian women in a coffee shop.

“Samira kind of falls into the company of Syrian activists,” Halasa said. This makes her not unlike the author, who co-edited the collection Syria Speaks (2014), and who for a while was “always surrounded by Syrian activists.” 

Although in different ways, for both Samira and the author working on Syria “has been a life-changer.”

Nearly all the women undergo major changes in the course of the novel. Mama Fadhma goes from being trod upon to fighting for her daughter and daughter-in-law. Samira takes bold steps in her political work and her personal development. Laila learns to chill out. It is perhaps only Muna, the American cousin, who remains untouched by events. Perhaps like her country, Muna remains as naïve at the end as she was at the beginning. 

The internal life of a giant sow

Even the mama pig, who is one of the key characters with a point of view, grows during the course of Mother of All Pigs. Halasa says that, while writing, she spent time at the Hackney City Farm, studying pig psychology, and also met with Sharon and David Groves, prize-winning pig exhibitors on the Isle of Wight.

One of the shocking aspects of the pig’s point of view is that it takes time to realize we’re in the mind of a farm animal. She’s kidnapped and dragged to Jordan, and, at first, we think we’re with a human victim. “Part of the novel is that we’re talking about people being tortured, renditioned,” Halasa said. “And here we have a character who’s been kidnapped.”

“There’s a kind of brutality in the way human life is, and animals often get the brunt of that—although now humans are getting the brunt of it as well. So there’s a continuation of this kind of violence,” Halasa said. “That’s why I wanted to give the pig that internal monologue.” 

Visibility for the region’s mixing

Although Muna isn’t one of the more powerful characters in Mother of All Pigs, her presence does allow the book to talk about what it means to be half-Arab. There are a number of fictional works that feature half-Arab, half-Anglo characters. Yet those who are half-Arab, half-Asian rarely appear in literature. Outside of Saud al-Sanoussi’s Bamboo Stalktranslated by Jonathan Wright, it’s hard to think of another book that features a half-Arab, half-Filipino central character. 

“There are many mixed Middle Eastern families,” Halasa said. “We just did a five-minute film for Mother of All Pigs, and we shot in one of the shisha cafes on Edgeware Road” in London. Among the onlookers was a Singaporean-Yemeni. 

Yet “nobody really knows about” these families, she said. There’s an idea that “the Middle East should be one way,” she said, but, “it’s very complex, mixed, changing all the time.”


Mother of All Pigs: A Selected Bibliography

Mother of All Pigs unveils contemporary life in the Middle East, as one family confronts its secrets over the course of a weekend’s festivities. Told from alternating points of view, Halasa’s debut novel is at times witty and energetic, compassionate and awe-inspiring, and over all, unputdownable. The Sabas family lives in a small Jordanian town that for centuries has been descended upon by all manner of invader, the latest a scourge of disconcerting Evangelical tourists. The border town relies on a blackmarket trade of clothes, trinkets , and appliances — the quality of which depends entirely on who’s fighting — but the conflict in nearby Syria has the place even more on edge than usual. Meanwhile, the Sabas home is ruled by women — Mother Fadhma, Laila, Samira, and now, Muna, a niece visiting from America for the first time — and it is brimming with regrets and desires. Clandestine pasts in love, politics, even espionage, threaten the delicate balance of order in the household, as generations clash. The family’s ostensible patriarch — Laila’s husband Hussein — enjoys no such secrets, not in his family or in town, where Hussein is known as the Levant’s only pig butcher, dealing in chops, sausages, and hams, much to the chagrin of his observant neighbors. When a long-lost soldier from Hussein's military past arrives, the Sabas clan must decide whether to protect or expose him, bringing long-simmering rivalries and injustices to the surface. Enchanting and fearless, Halasa's prose intertwines the lives of three generations of women as they navigate the often stifling, sometimes absurd realities of everyday life in the Middle East. Malu Halasa will discuss Mother of All Pigs on Friday 11/3, 6pm at 57th Street Books.

Opening the Gates: Anthology of Arab Feminist Writing, by Margot Badran and miriam cooke, eds. - In their own words: With its over sixty women contributors from across the Middle East, this go-to collection of Arab feminism writing, from the late 1800s to the early 2000s, heavily influenced my novel Mother of All Pigs.


The Veil and the Male Elite, by Fatima Mernissi - Religious critique: Moroccan feminist Fatima Mernissi (1940-2015) searched for early women’s voices and experiences to provide a hard-hitting feminist critique of early Islam and the veil.


The History of al-Tabari Vol. 7: The Foundation of the Community: Muhammad at al-Madina A.D. 622-626/Hijra-4 A.H., by W. Montgomery Watt, translated by M.V. MacDonald - Check the source: In this celebrated history of the early decades of Islam, tenth century religious scholar al-Tabari included eye-witness accounts of Hind Bint Utbah, a forthright woman caught in the transition between the pagan religions of old and the then coming Muslim conquest; riveting reading from the seventh century.


Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World, by Shereen El Feki - Sexual survey: Egyptian British journalist and immunologist ShereenEl Feki brought sex toys to Egyptian housewives and interviewed sex workers on the streets of Morocco to reveal women’s sexual relationships in deeply patriarchal societies – a modern Arab version of Meyhew’s London Labour and London Poor.


Headscarves and Hymens, by Mona Eltahawy - Engaged activism: Barbed gender critique underpins journalist Mona Eltahawy’s compelling memoir about growing up in Egypt and her observations on being Muslim and a woman.


Tiger and Clay: Syrian Fragments, by Rana Abdulfattah - Finding oneself against the odds: Rana Abdulfattah moves between poetry and intimate memoir, as an observant Syrian refugee adrift in Turkey forging a new life for herself and recovering from a broken heart.


Then They Came for Me: A Story of Injustice and Survival in Iran’s Most Notorious Prison, by Maziar Bahari - Got out alive: former Newsweek journalist in Tehran and documentary filmmaker Maziar Bahari’s account of his ordeal covers rare ground for the Middle East – family memoir – where too often regional violence obscures the ordinary lives of people there.


Jeddah Childhood circa 1994, by Omar Kholeif - Fast fiction, from the heart to the groin: this is one of the first gay memoirs about growing up in Saudi Arabia before the new wave of queer Arab writing just now emerging from the region.


Keep Your Eye on the Wall, by Olivia Snaije & Mitch Albert, eds. - A disturbing feast: With lavish visual essays by seven photographers and texts by four writers, including myself, this surprising concertina photo book is a reminder of both hardcore occupation and black humor in Palestine.


Rock in a Hard Place: Music and Mayhem in the Middle East, by Orlando Crowcroft - End with a song: a lively in-depth critique of hip hop and metal in the Middle East by a death metal fan Orlando Crowcroft who found out that 1,700 metal bands play secretly in the Islamic republic of Iran.

About Malu Halasa: Malu Halasa is Jordanian Filipina American writer and editor based in London. Born in Oklahoma, she was raised in Ohio and is a graduate of Barnard College, Columbia University. Her books include: Syria Speaks – Art and Culture from the Frontline (2014); Transit Tehran: Young Iran and Its Inspirations (2009); The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie: Intimacy and Design (2008); Kaveh Golestan: Recording the Truth in Iran (2007); Transit Beirut: New Writing and Images (2004) and Creating Spaces of Freedom: Culture in Defiance (2002). Mother of All Pigs, her first novel, will be published by Unnamed Press, Los Angeles.

Foreword Reviews

Halasa’s prose is revelatory.

Wholly authentic and profoundly insightful, Mother of all Pigs, by Malu Halasa, is a captivating look at the lives of a Middle Eastern family.

A butcher by trade, Hussein Sabas specializes in offering pig-based products alongside standard halal choices. This decision both keeps his business afloat and ostracizes him from more conservative neighbors in his small, rural Jordanian town. Though times in the neighborhood are tough—from warring states to an ever-crumbling social structure—Hussein still manages to be the odd man out, thanks to his general lack of religious compliance.

Hussein resides in a home full of women, including his elderly, animated mother, Fadhma, his cunningly dynamic wife, Laila, his seemingly-wayward half-sister, Samira, and a new addition, Muna, a niece visiting from America. Their family dynamic brims with tension. Each woman is fully aware of the secrets and hardship that plague their family. When an unexpected visitor from Hussein’s past surfaces, the family must make a critical decision on his behalf.

Halasa’s prose is revelatory. In addition to chronicling the minutiae of everyday life in the Middle East, precise and vivid language evokes a keen sense of atmosphere and setting. Alternating points of view also provide a holistic look at a family that both adores and despises one another.

Characters are believably human and easy to root for. The new addition of Muna, a decidedly American young woman, prompts some of the household to consider new, freer ways of thinking, which in turn leads to more internal strife among the group. By the time that a delinquent soldier from Hussein’s military past appears, they are in disarray, forced to work through their generational and cultural issues in order to decide his fate.

Moments of humor and wit offer much-needed breaks from the melancholy of the Sabas’ everyday lives. Despite living in a war-ravaged country, devoid of many of the necessary trappings of everyday life, each member of the family still keeps some spark of fun banter, allowing for a catharsis of sorts.

Engrossing in both its expertly crafted narrative and expressive imagery, Mother of all Pigs manages to make the story of one family universal.

AMANDA ADAMS (Debut Fiction 2017) 

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Publishers Weekly

Halasa’s debut novel focuses on a Jordanian family marked by an inability to discuss problems. Caught between their minority Christian heritage and the successive waves of Muslim refugees, the Sabas family struggles to stay afloat as the Syrian civil war rages nearby. Traditional matriarch Fadhma mourns that most of her 13 children have emigrated to the United States and that her stepson Hussein drinks. Her adult daughter, Samira seems resigned to her old maid role, but takes on dangerous missions for a Syrian women’s political organization. Hussein’s foray into pig farming, aided by his mercenary and profiteering uncle, ensures a level of wealth for the family but raises the hackles of the local Muslim population. Into this heady mix of social pressures, two new arrivals threaten the delicate stability of the family: Fadhma’s granddaughter Muna comes to Jordan from America seeking to understand the life her father fled, and, almost simultaneously, a former army subordinate of Hussein’s appears and roils his suppressed memories. The swirl of secrets, diverging story lines, flashbacks, and even interior monologues from a pig sometimes confuses. Still, Halasa’s sharp critiques and deadpan humor make for a captivating exploration of the intricacies of the modern Middle East. (Nov.) 

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