Brooklyn Heights, Paperback Book
3.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


"Brooklyn Heights", the fourth novel by award-winning Egyptian author Miral El-Tahawy, revolves around the character of Hend, an Arabic teacher and would-be writer in her late thirties, who emigrates to the United States from Cairo with her eight year old son after the painful break-up of her marriage.


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The immigrant experience is, typically, Janus like, looking forward and backward at the same time. In this beautifully rendered portrait of Hend, a woman from Egypt with a young son living amidst the Muslim immigrant community in Brooklyn, the concentration is upon the past, the life she knew as a young girl growing up in a village outside Cairo. Sights and smells and tastes of the homeland are as important as who did what when. In fact we never learn precisely how or why it is that Hend has migrated to America without her husband. We are simply asked to accept an underlying threat and a sense that she is still somehow fleeing. There are lovely passages here evoking a place and time with which many readers of this translation may be unfamiliar. That is no bar to enjoyment. What comes across is just how rich and complex and, of course at times, troubling the earlier portion of the lives of these immigrants has been. Although their American aspect may reduce them to a oneness (one character even remarks that all of the Arab immigrants look alike to her), there is much that lies beneath the surface that distinguishes them.What is missing here is an equally rooted experience of life in America. It’s almost as though, having made it to Brooklyn, these immigrants are still not quite fully in America. There is still that Brooklyn Bridge to cross. And for the time being they are still on the Brooklyn side. But that is merely a cavil and not a substantive criticism. Indeed very little could diminish the wonderful writing in this portrait of a woman estranged from her past and perhaps from herself. Recommended.

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