Hayati, My Life: A Novel (Arab American Writing)

Written by Miriam Cooke
Review by Mark F. Johnson

A series of interwoven vignettes detailing the life experiences of three generations of Arab women and the men in their lives, this short novel helps fill a too long vacant gap in the history of the trauma in the Middle East from 1948 to the present day. There’s no nationalism or religious fanaticism here, just the suffering caused by the combination of those two ideals. Strip away religious beliefs, political posturing, patriotic slogans, and racial hatred and what you are left with is misery on a grand scale. Whole lives are spent in the pursuit of simple, day-to-day survival. Cooke’s novel drives that point home without taking sides, without religious justification, and without any sense of acceptance by those who suffer the most.

This story is too short by half, however. There seems to be so much more to tell, so much more detail and character development, the lack of which leaves the reader with little sense of kinship with the storytellers. The architecture is exceptional and unique, but the project remains a half-finished frame, leaving the reader wondering why such an exceptional work was left incomplete.