TETA, MOTHER, AND ME by Jean Said Makdisi


Three Generations of Arab Women
Email this review


Makdisi (Beirut Fragments, 1990) blends feminism and international politics in this examination of the lives and aspirations of the women of her family over roughly the last century.

Born in Jerusalem to Arab Christians, Makdisi was raised by her grandmother Teta and mother to envision and train herself for “a perfect domestic life,” an idea that “was as much a part of our feminine existence as the air we breathed.” When she came of age, she writes, Makdisi and the women of her own generation dismissed the elders: “We thought they lacked strength, or imagination, or gratitude, or willpower, or intellect, or something.” Living through the Lebanese civil war tempered such attitudes, and she embarked on a long project to reconstruct the elders’ lives and times in order to understand just how much strength, and intellect, and imagination they had. Much of Makdisi’s gentle and largely uncomplaining account is a catalogue of disappointments, for the lives of her forebears did not often match their dreams; her father, for instance, had to return to Palestine from his cherished America to satisfy his mother’s deathbed bidding, “but he never really forgave her for deflecting him from what he had seen as his destiny in the New World.” Just so, where she had always thought of Teta as a ghostly, elderly figure shrouded in black who moved silently throughout the house, Makdisi discovers that the Teta of the 1900s was a vivacious, beloved presence independent-minded enough to reject “the festive henna evenings that preceded weddings, especially in Galilee, where she now lived,” a rejection that subtly ties in to Makdisi’s earlier disquisition on why so many young Arabs are now taking the veil—“and many young women, claiming their individual right to do so, are as zealous in this regard as their mothers or grandmothers were in removing it.”

Well-written and quite revealing.

Pub Date: April 24th, 2006
ISBN: 0-393-06156-6
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2006


NonfictionEXCELLENT DAUGHTERS by Katherine Zoepf
by Katherine Zoepf
FictionONE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS by Hanan al-Shaykh
by Hanan al-Shaykh
NonfictionTEACHING ARABS, WRITING SELF by Evelyn Shakir
by Evelyn Shakir