"Abu-Jaber's voluptuous prose features insights into the Arab American community that are wisely, warmly depicted."—San Francisco Chronicle
Sirine, the heroine of this "deliciously romantic romp" (?Vanity Fair?) is thirty-nine, never married, and living in the Arab-American community of Los Angeles. She has a passion for cooking and works contentedly in a Lebanese restaurant, while her storytelling uncle and her saucy boss, Umm Nadia, believe she should be trying harder to find a husband. One day Hanif, a handsome professor of Arabic literature, an Iraqi exile, comes to the restaurant. Sirine falls in love and finds herself questioning everything she thought she knew about Hanif, as well as her own torn identity as an Arab-American.
It's a positive relief to read a novel that treats Iraqis as real people. Diana Abu-Jaber's second novel, Crescent, is set in Los Angeles and peopled by immigrants and Iraqi-Americans. Thirty-nine-year-old, half-Arab Sirine is a chef in a Lebanese restaurant. Her uncle works at the university with Han, an Iraqi-born academic who begins frequenting Sirine's restaurant, drawn by her beauty and her exquisite cooking. Part of the book's charm is in its determination to impart the sheer glamour of Arabia, here personified in Han's face: "Sirine watches Han and for a moment it seems that she can actually see the ancient traces in Han's face, the quality of his gaze that seems to originate from a thousand-thousand years of watching the horizon--a forlorn, beautiful gazing, rich and more seductive than anything she has ever seen." Too, the book addresses head-on the one-dimensional view Americans possess of Iraq. I used to read about Baghdad in Arabian Nights," says one American character. "It was all about magic and adventurers. I thought that's what it was like there. And when I got older Baghdad turned into the stuff about war and bombs--the place on the TV set. I never thought about there being any kind of normal life there." As she falls more deeply in love with Han, Sirine discovers that part of being Iraqi now means learning to live with not knowing: not knowing where people have disappeared to, not knowing if your family is alive or dead. In the book's thrilling, romantic denouement, these lessons come perilously close to Sirine's Los Angeles home. Crescent brings alive a vibrant community of exiled academics, immigrants on the make, and optimistic souls looking for love. --Claire Dederer