A moving and intriguing family history only slightly marred by the author’s anger.

Remembering one Jewish Arab family’s past.

Los Angeles–based journalist Hayoun attempts to reclaim his family history and identity through this retelling of his grandparents’ saga. The author, who was mainly raised by his maternal grandparents, Daida and Oscar, identifies as both an Arab and a Jew, two descriptors he believes that many may feel are incompatible. He begins by arguing that, in fact, there is a long-standing tradition of Jewish Arabs, who lived and worked alongside their Muslim neighbors peacefully until colonialism disrupted Arab society and fractured it into various people groups. In addition to being a family story, the book is also an anti-colonial screed. Hayoun blames colonialism—he includes Zionism—for many of the ills that have beset the Arab people, and he sees the fight against colonialism as far from over. “Memory,” he writes, “can subvert colonial authority, it can frighten the colonizers because it allows us to reconfigure this miserable world we live in now, depose the white supremacist…and approach the European sector with open eyes, ready to disassemble empire.” The author’s disdain for the European world is palpable, and his allegiance is clearly with the Arab world. He describes his family’s condition as “our exile in Los Angeles,” and he notes that his religion is secondary to his ethnic identity: “I am Arab first and last. Judaism is an adjective that modifies my Arabness.” The core of the author’s work, however, consists of his grandparents’ stories of growing up in Tunisia and Egypt, surviving Nazi bombing and occupation, dealing with anti-Semitism during the founding of modern Israel, leaving North Africa, meeting in France, and finding their way, in the end, to America. Both grandparents left behind written autobiographical accounts, and from these, and other conversations, Hayoun pieces together a remarkable tale of survival and success, and it is a story worth remembering.

A moving and intriguing family history only slightly marred by the author’s anger.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62097-416-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019


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

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