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When We Were Arabs
Cover of When We Were Arabs
When We Were Arabs
A Jewish Family's Forgotten History
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WINNER OF THE ARAB AMERICAN BOOK AWARD

  • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR
    The stunning debut of a brilliant nonfiction writer whose vivid account of his grandparents' lives in Egypt, Tunisia, Palestine, and Los Angeles reclaims his family's Jewish Arab identity

    There was a time when being an "Arab" didn't mean you were necessarily Muslim. It was a time when Oscar Hayoun, a Jewish Arab, strode along the Nile in a fashionable suit, long before he and his father arrived at the port of Haifa to join the Zionist state only to find themselves hosed down with DDT and then left unemployed on the margins of society. In that time, Arabness was a mark of cosmopolitanism, of intellectualism. Today, in the age of the Likud and ISIS, Oscar's son, the Jewish Arab journalist Massoud Hayoun whom Oscar raised in Los Angeles, finds his voice by telling his family's story.

    To reclaim a worldly, nuanced Arab identity is, for Hayoun, part of the larger project to recall a time before ethnic identity was mangled for political ends. It is also a journey deep into a lost age of sophisticated innocence in the Arab world; an age that is now nearly lost.

    When We Were Arabs showcases the gorgeous prose of the Eppy Award–winning writer Massoud Hayoun, bringing the worlds of his grandparents alive, vividly shattering our contemporary understanding of what makes an Arab, what makes a Jew, and how we draw the lines over which we do battle.

  • WINNER OF THE ARAB AMERICAN BOOK AWARD

  • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR
    The stunning debut of a brilliant nonfiction writer whose vivid account of his grandparents' lives in Egypt, Tunisia, Palestine, and Los Angeles reclaims his family's Jewish Arab identity

    There was a time when being an "Arab" didn't mean you were necessarily Muslim. It was a time when Oscar Hayoun, a Jewish Arab, strode along the Nile in a fashionable suit, long before he and his father arrived at the port of Haifa to join the Zionist state only to find themselves hosed down with DDT and then left unemployed on the margins of society. In that time, Arabness was a mark of cosmopolitanism, of intellectualism. Today, in the age of the Likud and ISIS, Oscar's son, the Jewish Arab journalist Massoud Hayoun whom Oscar raised in Los Angeles, finds his voice by telling his family's story.

    To reclaim a worldly, nuanced Arab identity is, for Hayoun, part of the larger project to recall a time before ethnic identity was mangled for political ends. It is also a journey deep into a lost age of sophisticated innocence in the Arab world; an age that is now nearly lost.

    When We Were Arabs showcases the gorgeous prose of the Eppy Award–winning writer Massoud Hayoun, bringing the worlds of his grandparents alive, vividly shattering our contemporary understanding of what makes an Arab, what makes a Jew, and how we draw the lines over which we do battle.

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    About the Author-
    • Massoud Hayoun is a journalist based in Los Angeles, most recently freelancing for Al Jazeera English and Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown online while writing a weekly column on foreign affairs for Pacific Standard. He previously worked as a reporter for Al Jazeera America, The Atlantic, Agence France-Presse, and The South China Morning Post and has been published widely. He speaks and works in five languages and won a 2015 EPpY Award. The author of the forthcoming When We Were Arabs: A Jewish Family's Forgotten History (The New Press), he lives in Los Angeles.
    Reviews-
    • Library Journal

      June 7, 2019

      Journalist Hayoun (Al Jazeera English; Pacific Standard) begins this nostalgic family history by describing a world he's never seen; gleaned from journals of his much-loved and loving grandparents who raised him as a Jewish Arab in Los Angeles during the 1990s and 2000s while his single mother worked long hours. The author describes his childhood and his grandparents' lives in Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, France, and New York before arriving in L.A., drawing on film, food, and song to demonstrate their Jewish Arab identity. Moving to history's contribution to his family's journey, Hayoun starts from the premise that the suffering (illuminated for him in the works of Frantz Fanon and others) of Jewish Arabs and all North Africans is caused by "European colonizers" who invented a transnational Jewish nation united only by victimhood and supported by Zionism. He dismisses any claim of Ashkenazi Jews being part of the biblical People of Israel and considers them colonizers of "occupied Palestine." VERDICT Hayoun's debut memoir offers a new perspective on world affairs and will be appreciated by readers interested in family histories told through personal narratives.--Joel Neuberg, Santa Rosa Junior Coll. Lib., CA

      Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

    • Kirkus Review Praise for When We Were Arabs:
      “Hayoun pieces together a remarkable tale of survival and success, and it is a story worth remembering. A moving and intriguing family history."
    • Khaled Beydoun, law professor and author of American Islamophobia “A masterpiece that reads with the same themes of complexity and romance, pain and longing, that are indigenous to the land of his grandparents, and the entwined Arab and Jewish identity that flourishes on every page of this book."
    • Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy “When We Were Arabs wonderfully braids cultural history, memoir, poetics, and politics into a completely unexpected but necessary artistic intervention destined to obliterate our brittle understandings of what is Jewish, Arab, and radically loving. The book is as good as it is important."
    • Moustafa Bayoumi, author of This Muslim American Life and How Does It Feel to Be a Problem “When We Were Arabs is not only a deeply researched account of one family's North African history, but one of the best books available on the postcolonial foundations of contemporary Arab American identity. It is nothing short of a triumph."
    • Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking “A beautifully written, compelling argument for compassion, solidarity, and love, in a time where they are so woefully scarce."
    • Safia Elhillo, author of The January Children “A stunning piece of storytelling, a necessary work of history, and in its portraiture of a lost world, its corniches populated with the great singers and film stars of old, it is a work of poetry."
    • Raja Shehadeh, author of Palestinian Walks and Where the Line Is Drawn “A rare, multifaceted book that dares tell the story of the Arab Jew as it was without propaganda or prejudice and which chronicles how the nuance that had been there in Jewish Arab political identities disappeared under the onslaught of Zionism."
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    A Jewish Family's Forgotten History
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