Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family

by Najla Said

Hardcover, 2013




New York : Riverhead Books, 2013.


A frank and entertaining memoir, from the daughter of Edward Said, about growing up second-generation Arab American and struggling with that identity.

User reviews

LibraryThing member DNBrown
I have a difficult time with memoirs: I tend to avoid reading them unless they’ve been personally recommended to me, because I have a hard time connecting to them. While there were parts of Najla Said’s story that I found very compelling, the majority of the story left me feeling cold. I think perhaps part of that is Said’s writing style: very straightforward and to the point, where I prefer a more winding narrative. Said’s story is an important one, and her feelings of being without an identity or a true home land are compelling, but this version of her experiences did not do it justice.… (more)
LibraryThing member lizamichelle1
Interesting story of how Najla came to love herself, her culture and history. It is upsetting, yet common for girl in particular to feel that they must fit in with the majority. Especially if the only this that visually appears to separate you is the tint to your skin and your name. Being of African-American, a group of people who's history and culture was literally beaten out of them, I cant understand how she could feel like an outsider among the elite she was growing up with.… (more)
LibraryThing member CrazyKatLady
This memoir is particularly notable for having been written by the daughter of acclaimed thinker and professor Edward Said. She describes the difficulties she encountered in being raised as a self-proclaimed "Upper West Side princess," while also growing up in a family strongly rooted in their Arab heritage.

Speaking as a child of split nationalities myself (my father was born in the U.S. to thoroughly American parents; my mother was Mexican), I could relate to her struggles to figure out a place to belong. It's rare to see that struggle put to paper, how there is always a part of you that seems to tug in an opposite geographical direction. That's what the heart of the story is about; figuring out how to gracefully reconcile one's current identity with their familial past, and how the past and present entwine. I thought that was one of the strongest points of the book.

A good portion of the story takes place during her visits to the Middle East, which is the other part that interested me. If you don't have a great idea of what the struggle in that area of the world is about, she gives a good, basic overview (from what some may consider a slanted viewpoint, of course). It's also horrifying to get even the glimpses--only glimpses--that she provides of the warfare in the region.

In the end, though, I felt kind of like I didn't quite understand why this book needed to be written. It's written well, no question. It's a very easy, quick story to read. But unless you're either a memoir junkie or a Edward Said fan, I'm not sure what the audience for this book is. It doesn't go into a whole lot of detail about Palestinian-Israeli relations for the political science geeks, and it's not about a person particularly famous in her own right. She had identity crises, and got over them. It happens to be special because she had access to a very privileged life.
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LibraryThing member AlanaB
The book was interesting. It covered a lot of issues she had with her background with her Palestinian father and Lebanese mother. Najla did not feel like she fit in until she reconnected with her roots on her own terms. A fascinating aspect of the book was that she compared and contrasted the various cultures she was a part of.… (more)
LibraryThing member Jcambridge
I found this memoir to be very insightful. As the mother of two biracial/bicultural children (now adults), I could see parallels with the experiences of my own children, who have faced similar identity issues from an early age. Her summation of one family trip to Beirut is one that merits sharing: "...The experience was enough for me to understand that every war ever fought, every violent act ever committed, and every trauma any child has ever endured is utterly horrifying, and that's all you need to know for now..." I feel this memoir should/could be on the required reading lists for both public and private schools. I highly recommend it to others.… (more)
LibraryThing member Georgia.Bets
I do not believe this book was meant to be a political commentary but more of a light on the difficulty in growing up simultaneously in two different worlds.
LibraryThing member Gwendydd
It feels like Najla wrote this more for herself, as her own way of processing her personal history, than for an audience. A lot of the book is about her experiences in middle and high school, feeling like a misfit and developing anorexia. Not to belittle her experience, but I didn't find it very interesting reading about a teenager who didn't fit in: her experience of not fitting in didn't come across as unique. At the end of the book, she does acknowledge that some it comes across as whiny. It felt like she ran out of energy when she got to the interesting parts of the book, and she didn't devote nearly as much detail to the parts of the book that interested me - how she finally embraced her Arab-American identity, how she integrated Arab culture into her own life. As a fan of her father, Edward Said, I was hoping she would talk more about how his ideas played out in her life, but I suppose that if you grow up with those ideas, you probably take them for granted or don't realize how different your experience of those ideas is from everyone else's.

I certainly don't regret reading this - it did provide a few interesting insights into Arab-American culture. But the interesting parts could have been distilled down to a few chapters, instead of an entire book.
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LibraryThing member gofergrl84
Looking for Palestine is a heart-breaking, funny, and honest look at what it is like to grow up in multi-cultural environment. The author’s experiences are something that can be related to by people all over the United States. She brings to light the complexities of the Middle East and how they shaped her life and the lives of her parents and brother. Overall, this book is a fast-paced and engaging story about one woman’s journey to find her own identity.… (more)



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