Rummanah Aasi
 Part of the fun of participating in the Middle Eastern Reading Challenge is learning about different countries, cultures, and exploring new authors. When I picked up Crescent, I was in the mood for an engrossing read especially after a few books that left me wanting more. I'm happy to say that Crescent delivered in lots of surprising ways.

Description (from book's inside panel): An Arab-American novel as delicious as Like Water for Chocolate. Praised by Critics from The New Yorker to USA Today for the first novel, Arabian Jazz ("an oracular tale that unfurls like gossamer"), Diana Abu-Jaber weaves with spellbinding magic a multidimensional love story set in the Arab-American community of Los Angeles. Thirty-nine-year-old Sitine, never married, lives with a devoted Iraqi-immigrnt uncle and an adoring dog named King Babar. She works as a chef in a Lebanese restaurant, her passions aroused only by the preparation of food--until an unbearably handsome Arabic literature professor starts dropping by for a little home cooking. Falling in love brings Sirene's whole heart to a boil--stirring up memories of her parents and questions about her identity as an Arab American. Written in a lush, lyrical style teminiscent of The God of Small Things, infused with the flavors and scents of Middle Eastern food, and spiced with history and fable, Creseent is a sensuous love story and a gripping tale of risk and commitment.

Review: Crescent is a complex, rich novel with multiple layers that weaves the story of a romance between an alluring chef and a handsome, haunted Near Eastern Studies professor together with a fanciful tale of a mother's quest to find her wayward son. The author does an incredible job in exploring  private emotions and global politics with both grace and conviction.
  Sirine is a beautiful, single woman who also happens to be the leading chef at an Arabic cafe where many of the customers are Arab immigrant students who flock to the cafe in order to get a taste of home. Raised by her uncle after the death of her relief-worker parents, Sirine isn't really connected to her cultural roots. While others around her experience homesickness, Sirine feels a part of her that is missing. When her uncle introduces her to his colleague Hanif, her easy going lifestyle is disturbed.
  By far the most interesting character in Crescent is the male lead, Hanif, who has been exiled from Iraq and hasn't seen his family for twenty years. He is incredibly intelligent, filled with mysteries, and handsome. He constantly struggles to adjust to his life in the U.S. while still holding on to his fond memories of Baghdad he loved as a boy. I found myself being immediately drawn to him and I instantly wanted to know why and how he left Iraq and can't go back.
 While the romance between Sirine and Hanif happens rather quickly, you do get the sense that they have done the flirting dance for a while. Both are afraid of commitment though their definitions of commitment may be different. For Sirine, it's about embracing her Iraqi cultural roots and she seems to find that in Hanif. For Hanif, it's the balance between his past and his present which he seems to find in Sirine. Sirine and Hanif's relationship isn't perfect and it does have rocky moments, which made their romance realistic.
 Abu-Jaber's prose is sensuous. The city is vibrant and you can practically picture yourself sitting in the cafe as the sights, sounds, and smells come alive. Throughout the book I had a really strong craving for Middle Eastern cuisine and I will warn you that the multiple dishes mentions will make you hungry. The secondary characters also come alive, especially the wry, meddling, wise cafe owner Um-Nadia and the charmingly narcissistic poet and satyr Aziz, are appealingly eccentric. I loved that all the characters are real, honest, and three dimensional. They are not perfect. While I may not agree with the decisions they make, I can understand the choices they made.
  I thought the pacing was good and was surprised how quickly I finished the book. Normally, it takes me twice as long to finish an adult book instead of a YA or children because the setting, plot, and characters take time to fully establish. I think with my prior knowledge of the cuisine, familiarity with the language, and atrocities under the Saddam Hussain regime helped me read and enjoy the book much more. I know of many other readers who thought the book was slow and boring. I, however, was enthralled and enamored with the story. I look forward to reading more books by this author.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some small sex scenes and some language in the book. Recommended for mature teens interested in multicultural fiction and adults.

If you like this book try: Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran, The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan, Chocolat by Joan Francis, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
3 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    The rocky moments and the character flaws definitely make a romance realistic I think, so I'm glad it's not all fun and flirty moments between Sirine and Hanif! The cuisine aspect of this one would be really interesting I think as well:) Happy Friday Rummanah!

  2. This book sounds wonderful. I am intrigued by middle Eastern culture, although I haven't read a ton about it, but Hubs is always telling me about things that he's experienced and that kind of thing. I think I'd like to read this book. The author sounds like he's done an amazing job bringing the people and setting to life. And...I'm already hungry and could go for a change of food. :D

  3. Isn't that the best feeling, when you end up thoroughly enjoying a book that maybe didn't work for others. When that happens to me, it makes me feel like I'm in a secret club. LOL

    Happy Friday, Rummanah

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