In Tucson, the marriage of a Jordanian couple is tested by internal and external pressures.
In her second novel, Halaby (West of the Jordan, 2003) explores cultural gulfs, immigrant alienation and racist stereotypes, via the relationship between Jassim and Salwa Haddad, and between the Haddads and the US. While the post-9/11 mood exposes the pair to predictable scrutiny and prejudice, the flawed marriage is already vulnerable, given that Salwa is lying to Jassim about her broodiness (he claims not to want children) and he has withheld from her the fact that the boy he knocked down in a driving accident has actually died. Other secrets further divide the couple. Salwa’s attraction to Jake, a flaky, drug-dealing, demon lover of a coworker, turns into a foolish affair; and Jassim develops a comforting, possibly sexual friendship with a heart-of-gold waitress, Penny. Halaby partially compensates for the inconsistencies of her story through the quality of incidental observation and her efforts to pinpoint the differing values between America—the country Salwa’s parents left because it was “not worth losing our souls so we could have nice things”—and the Jordanian homeland, to which Salwa eventually tries to return as a means of extricating herself from her entanglement with Jake. Jassim, a hydrologist with access to the city’s water supply, loses his job as a result of an FBI investigation. He’s on the brink of involvement with Penny when Jake attacks Salwa, an action that reunites the couple, who will eventually return to Jordan together.
Intermittent heavy-handedness and the author’s decision to manipulate her characters like chess pieces, without plausible motivation, sabotage an occasionally lyrical story.