Arabian Jazz serves up a light-hearted and imaginative portrait of a family putting down roots in America, but closely connected to their Jordanian heritage as well. Author Diana Abu-Jaber has her finger directly on the pulse of unconditional love and loyalty in an extended family in New York.
A widower, jazz musician Matussem Ramoud, lives with his two daughters, Jemorah and Melvina. "Family Function Season" is fast approaching, the particular time of year for family get-togethers, but the main purpose is to find appropriate husbands for the girls. Jemorah is approaching thirty and Matussem's sister Fatima is obsessed with husband-hunting, determined that Jem won't be an old maid. Men from various branches of the family tree have been offered over the years -- distant cousins, acerbic uncles, family friends -- none of whom are acceptable to Jemorah.
The Ramoud family offers an intimate view into one family's Arab-American experience, as it blends two generations of quirky, colorful relatives, many recent visitors whose fractured English adds to their eccentric charm. Set up on a double date with Melvina and Jemora's cousin Saiid enthuses, "I must be in heaven, man. You are our cousins, man? This is completely, like, my mind is psyching out."
This mix of assorted relatives is like any other ethnic heritage, complete with Old Country fables and the foolish antics of the younger generation. There are moments of quiet introspection sprinkled throughout the hectic pace of the Ramoud's daily lives, time in which Jemorah remembers her mother and reflects on her father's years alone. She realizes her father's displacement is an integral part of his personality, that he "wouldn't have been the same father in Jordan… his removal was part of that soft, giving light behind his eyes and part of the recklessness of his laugh."
Each page is a delight. Abu-Jaber's chapters burst with energy and a fine-tuned appreciation of family connections, filled with memorable images, intimate portraits of amazing characters. A rare and wonderful gift, Jemorah's Jordanian-American family is her greatest asset. No matter what the future holds, there is always a soft place to fall, music to dance to and the promise of tomorrow.