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Multicultural Literature
Habibi
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Yangsook Choi: Biography
Yangsook Choi: Bibliography
Yangsook Choi: Book Analysis
The Thief Lord
This Same Sky
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge
The Eleventh Hour: Curious Mystery
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry
M.C. Higgins, the Great
Goin' Someplace Special
Locomotion
Too Many Tamales
Pablo Remembers
My Name is Maria Isabel
Pablo's Tree
The Great Ball Game
Buffalo Woman
Morning Girl
The Mud Pony: A Traditional Skidi Pawnee Tale
Jingle Dancer
The Name Jar
Tree of Cranes
Good Luck Gold: And Other Poems
The Magic Paintbrush
Habibi
Ella Enchanted
Silent Lotus
Real Heroes

Nye, Naomi Shihab.  1997.  Habibi.  New York: Simon Pulse.  ISBN:
     0689825234.

 

Fourteen year old Liyana Abboud lives in St. Louis with her Palestinian father, American mother and younger brother, Rafik.  Experiencing her first kiss, life is just getting interesting when her doctor father announces that the family is packing up and moving to Jerusalem to live in the midst of her Palestinian relatives.  Having grown up in the United States with little knowledge of that part of the world, except what she has seen on television, this seems like the end of everything that is important to Liyana. 

Culture shock hits the minute the family arrives at their destination. First guards detain the family and search through all their possessions.  Next come the many relatives, hugging, talking, kissing, pinching, and grandmother Sitti’s trilling, which she uses in moments of extreme emotion.  Everything is different, the women’s dresses, the kaffiyehs men wear on their heads, the villages, homes, furnishings, and the food.  Liyana learns that many things are considered inappropriate behavior including shorts, boy/girl friendships, and friendships between the Palestinians and Jews.

As an outsider, Liyana must learn the language, and the way of life.  She attends an Armenian school and begins to absorb the culture and beauty of the area surrounding her including the small shops and restaurants serving dishes like falafel and katayef (a pancake stuffed with cinnamon and nuts and covered with syrup).  She meets and becomes attracted to Omer, whom she learns later, is Jewish.  This turn of events flies in the face of convention causing her father, Poppy, to reassess his belief system.  Liyana reminds him of his statement “It would be great if people never described each other as the Jew or the Arab or the black guy or the white guy” and eventually Poppy gives in (Nye).

The reader is immersed in the rich tapestry that is the Middle East.  We see through the eyes of people who live in this beautiful, ancient, and dangerous area.  The reader gets a sense of everyday life through the interesting characters within the story.  Liyana and Rafik befriend Khaled and Nadine from the refugee camp and they visit a Bedouin encampment. The troubled history and the complexity of the Palestinian and Israeli relations become clearer through this story. 

Naomi Shihab Nye’s background is similar to that of her main character which brings an authenticity to the story.  Having Palestinian and American parents she learned to accept the differences between peoples.  She says, “This is one of the best things about growing up in a mixed family or community.  You never think only one way of doing or seeing anything is right” (Ansari, et al).  She weaves and blends American cultural elements with the culture of Palestinians including the foods, clothing, language and Arabic and Hebrew vocabulary, lifestyle, and traditions.  One can almost visualize Sitti’s village and picture the extended family through the vivid images Nye describes.  I came to respect the family and especially Sitti who has lived through difficult times but says, “I never lost my peace inside” (Nye).  There is a personal sense of story and you can’t help but wish for peace and understanding to come to this part of the world and to the good people who reside there.

Ansari, Anisah, Katie profili, Sabra McIntosh, Ellen Campion.  Habibi web page.  Available
     from http://faculty.ssu.edu/~elbond/habibi.htm.  Accessed 28 July 04.