A Map of Home

by Jacquelyn Lewis

Fresh and funny, Randa Jarrar’s debut novel is a coming-of-age story about a country-less girl.

When the dawn of her 13th birthday is accompanied by falling bombs heralding the Gulf War, Kuwaiti teenager Nidali notes, “There’s a moment when most children know their childhoods are over. That was mine.” A Map of Home—by Kuwait-born Randa Jarrar—is the coming-of-age story of a country-less girl: born in Boston, Nidali is raised in Kuwait, flees with her family to Egypt during the 1990 Iraqi invasion, and finishes high school in Texas, the site of her father’s new job. “I always felt like I’d left something behind at home until I realized that what I’d left behind was home,” Nidali says after so many moves. Complicating matters is the tumultuous relationship between her Palestinian father and Greek-Egyptian mother, who volley curses at each other like bombs. Yet Nidali is still a typical teenager, grappling with the lust that accompanies her first love and worrying about making friends. More unusual is the angry letter she pens to Saddam Hussein, furious at being uprooted from Kuwait: “When you decided to invade the country where I grew up (and when you decided this, sir, were you on some seriously strong hashish?) did you, at any point, stop and consider the teenage population?” Nidali’s voice is a winning combination of the detailed observations of a wannabe writer and the snark of an acerbic adolescent, and with her as a tour guide, readers won’t need a map through this spectacularly fresh and funny debut novel.

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