A Map of Home Summary

Randa Jarrar

A Map of Home

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A Map of Home Summary

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A Map of Home is a 2008 coming-of-age novel by Randa Jarrar. It follows the first-person account of a girl named Nidali, born to a Palestinian father and Egyptian mother, who moves from various temporary homes in the Middle East to Boston, Massachusetts. Aware of her mixed background and jarred by the move between starkly different cultural contexts, Nidali battles with her father and his strict expectations for his daughter, which are informed by a background she does not relate to. At the same time, the family processes problems of ethnic division, turmoil, and war in their homelands, reconceiving what it means to have a home.

The book begins just as Nidali receives her American passport and moves to Boston with her father and mother, who she refers to as Baba and Mama. Nidali’s birth name is symbolic of her present conditions: the feminine variant of the word “Nidal,” it translates to “struggle.” Nidali spends her early years of life in Kuwait, remembering not much of the time other than confusions with the meaning of different religious traditions. At the age of seven, she wants to ask her father about the “people of Ibrahim” he asks God to bless in prayer, and her friend Zainab tells her that they are a family that has large barbecue parties during the holiday of Eid. When she is slightly older, her cousin Essam stays with the family. Extremely religious, he destroys her collection of Wonder Woman stickers, outraged at the lack of clothing she wears and calling her a prostitute. These formative events characterize Nidali as highly observant of the various irrationalities of religious cultures.

Nidali’s earliest memories of struggle take place in 1990, when Saddam Hussein runs an Iraqi insurgency of Kuwait. The family flees to Egypt that year. Nidali recalls bombs going off on her 13th birthday, the beginning of the war overwriting any memory of a celebration. They escape in their car, gaining entrance to Egypt thanks to a summer home they own, where they take refuge. After a while in Egypt, Nidali’s parents send her to live with one of her grandparents, who has fallen ill. This shift affords Nidali freedom away from her overbearing father and his frequent domestic quarrels with her Mama.

In her new neighborhood, Nidali meets a boy named Fakhr, and they begin a budding romance. They spend much of their time riding bikes and scouting out secluded areas to experiment with their sexualities. Throughout her emerging puberty, Nidali is conscious of Egyptian rules governing displays of public affection and sexual experiences that are predicated on religious Arab doctrine. She fends off feelings of guilt after she learns of masturbation and tries it for the first time. After a while in Egypt searching for jobs without success, Nidali’s Baba resolves to find a job in the United States. Though his search is unfruitful at first, he is selected for a job as an architect in Texas. At first, he flies there alone and lives in a mobile home. Nidali and her Mama fly to America in his wake, along with her brother, Gamal.

Nidali undergoes a turbulent adaptation from Eastern to Western life and its unfamiliar norms. Now supposed to identify as an American, she enrolls in a Texas public high school. She develops a crush on a classmate named Omar Medina, and old tensions with her Baba reemerge as he tries to control her behavior. As high school progresses, Nidali aspires to become a writer and sends an application to a university in Boston. This dream is in part a projection of her father’s, who always aspired to become a poet but was prevented by the obstacles of ordinary life in the Middle East. Her father rejects her desire to go to Boston, believing that leaving home is frivolous and offers no security, preferring instead that she study near home in Texas. Nidali is outraged, pointing out contradictions between his desire for her to become a famous professor and his inability to let go of her. Feeling that she and her father will not reconcile, Nidali runs away from home. It doesn’t take long to realize that she still loves her parents, and she returns and comes to terms with them. Soon afterward, she learns her application has been accepted, and her Mama and Baba permit her to go to college in Boston.

A coming-of-age novel set in a globalist world colored by the sorrows and cultural losses of political refuge, A Map of Home expresses the unique emotional texture of growing up in an environment that is constantly contingent on the forces of political change that are largely unintelligible to a child. Despite the injustices of Nidali’s family’s situation, they remain optimistic about the future, and learn to reconceive their nuclear family as open and dynamic rather than tightly bound to the traditions and expectations of a particular home. As the family transforms, it learns to be content engaging and identifying with American life.