Memoirs from children of celebrities and politicians abound, but the offspring of our country’s leading intellectuals have been less effusive. That gap has started to close, however, thanks to Najla Said’s Looking for Palestine, a memoir from the daughter of the late Edward Said, the outspoken advocate for Palestine who single-handedly founded post-colonial studies.
Said grew up with her Palestinian father and Lebanese mother on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and as she reveals in her memoir (originally an Off-Broadway play), that childhood included trips to Beirut, Israel, and Palestine, as well as dinners with Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag, and the “crème de la crème of the Palestinian Resistance.” But by enrolling her in an elite Upper East Side private school where she was the only Arab student, her parents sent her a decidedly mixed message about who they wanted her to be. She was also baptized in the Episcopalian Church as a baby, but essentially raised in a culturally Jewish environment, adding to the muddle. As Said summarizes: “I am a Palestinian-Lebanese-American-Christian woman, but I grew up as a Jew in New York City. I began my life, however, as a WASP.”
Said wryly documents how this identity confusion in turn sprouted a pu pu platter of obsessive behaviors and severe anorexia. Fortunately, this isn’t just the complaint of a public intellectual’s daughter, but a vivid story about internal demons that many readers will relate to.
Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family, 29.99 Penguin Books
This review appears in the Aug/Sept 2013 issue of BUST Magazine with Janelle Monáe. Subscribe now.
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