One open-hearted teacher’s resistance to narrow definitions of identity.

A Boston teacher on Fulbright grants to Lebanon, Syria and Bahrain (pre-Arab Spring) provides surprising, elucidating insights into the Arab character.

Born to Lebanese immigrants, Shakir (Remember Me to Lebanon: Stories of Lebanese Women in America, 2007, etc.) was thoroughly Americanized, growing up outside of Boston, and even attended St. George’s Orthodox Church and later Wellesley College, where she embarked on her career as an academic. In this well-honed, posthumous memoir (Shakir died in 2010), consisting partly of childhood memories and partly of her experiences teaching English-language literature to young Arabs, the author sounds out her own character for what it means to be Lebanese and later recognizes many familiar traits in the old world of her parents: love of family, respect for the wishes of one’s parents, modesty, pride and generosity. Along with her brother, Shakir was surrounded by an extended Lebanese family, hard workers in the mills, presses and sewing shops of the Northeast. Her mother was a charter member of the Syrian Ladies’ Aid group and her uncle, a flamboyant co-owner of the iconic Cyclone roller coaster at Revere Beach. Shakir ventured on her Fulbright in the mid-2000s, long after the Lebanese civil war but just shy of an Israeli bombing campaign and well before the current civil war in Syria. Hence, her observations are pertinent and subtle, rather than political, and pertain especially to the various shades of Arabic diversity, such as accents and dress, especially women’s dress, between Beirut and Bahrain (jeans versus abaya) and religious piety—e.g., in the surprising reactions of many students to the perceived permissiveness of Arab-American literature that Shakir introduced in class. In her tight, witty prose, Shakir challenges easy assumptions about ethnicity, religion and belonging.

One open-hearted teacher’s resistance to narrow definitions of identity.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-56656-924-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Olive Branch/Interlink

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

Close Quickview