This story of love, family, tradition and cultural identity is especially poignant in today‘s environment; the characters are Arab - Lebanese, Jordanian, Iranian, Iraqi and Arab-American. Carefully nuanced and filled with exotic visuals, scents and the comforting essence of family, Abu-Jaber’s prose is transcendent, as rich as the pastries the protagonist, Sirine, serves to her customers. With hints of indigenous spices and caramelized sugar, the phrases blend together, creating memory. Abu-Jaber possesses the same lyrical vision as the prolific Alice Hoffman, page after page of vivid images that fill my mind.
Sirine is the main ingredient in this tasty concoction. At thirty-nine, the Arab-American Sirine luxuriates in the simple comforts of her life as cook in the Lebanese restaurant, Nadia’s Café, nestled in the hub of the Arab community in Los Angeles. While current events swirl around her, Sirine blithely attends to the ethnic dishes she lovingly prepares, stirring long-buried memories of her childhood longing for absentee parents who travel to distant lands in an effort at humanitarian aid. When, finally, they fail to return home, Sirine quietly closes her heart against further loss.
Then an exiled Iraqi professor of literature, Hanif Al Eyad, catches Sirine’s eye, and she is unable to deny herself this luxury, all the characteristic emotions of incipient love exploding in her heart as she is swept into the excitement and passion of the moment. Abu-Jaber’s tender love scenes are threaded with eroticism, that wonderful confusion of the first days of love.
The charismatic professor introduces reality into the developing romance; exiled from Iraq in his early twenties, when the political expediency of escape provided an enticing adventure, Han was too inexperienced to comprehend the enormity of his decision. Sirine must validate Han’s past if they are to progress toward the necessary intimacy of a meaningful relationship. Sirine resists, longing for the safety of those heady days of new romance. Finally, her innocence shattered, she understands the true nature of commitment, the balance between pleasure and pain; through this experience, Sirine becomes a more fully-realized woman.
Abu-Jaber has written more than a love story. Crescent is a mixture of fable and truth, drawing the reader into the Arab community, with all its complexities and allegiances. Her idiosyncratic characters bring their personal experiences, memories and family stories to Nadia’s Café. With passionate longing, they examine life in exile from beloved countries of origin: “When we walk away from home, we fall in love with our sadness."
Abu-Jaber welcomes us inside spice-scented, fragrant rooms where families gather for comfort, sharing familial traditions and hopes for the future. We struggle to understand cultural and ideological differences in a world made smaller by communication, yet obscured by the barriers of language and tradition. An antidote to our confusion, Crescent is a rich, exuberant experience, one that fills this reader to satiety, like a Middle-Eastern banquet topped off with vanilla ice cream for dessert, the perfect combination of the unexpected and the familiar. Blending cultural diversity and the daily banality of life in an urban American city, this talented author invites us to a bountiful buffet of humanity, a magnificent multi-cultural feast.