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3.0 out of 5 stars Dancing Arabs, 15 Dec. 2012
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This review is from: Dancing Arabs (Paperback)
Some disapointment with the qualty of the story telling. The subject is a specialsm of mine so I was looking for more insight. However that is probably a bit unfair as the writer is a young man and there are far too few novels by Palestinians translated into English. I feel Sayed Kashua has a great novel in embryo waiting to be born.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Identity crises for an Israeli Arab, 10 Aug. 2014
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Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dancing Arabs (Kindle Edition)
The novel gives a strong impression of being at least in part autobiographical, though Kashua, a successful author and a regular contributor to Ha’aretz, is obviously much more successful than the unnamed narrator, who, like the author, was born in the mid 1970s in Tira, an Arab village in Israel, just inside the Green Line, which makes him an Arab-Israeli citizen.

The narrator’s grandfather had fought the Israelis in 1948; his father was a great admirer of Nasser and had spent time in Israeli prisons, and the little boy plays war games with his brother.

He describes his elementary school, where the Arab teachers inflict harsh physical punishment on their pupils on the slightest occasion. Amazingly, and to the rage of their history teacher, nobody in the class knew what Palestine was or knew that they were “Palestinians”. When he is about ten years old, an organization called Seeds of Peace gets Jewish and Arab primary school children to visit each others’ schools. At the age of fourteen he wins a place at a new boarding school for gifted students which the Jews had set up in Jerusalem. His family is proud of him.

The Jewish students make fun of his mispronunciations and of him not knowing how to use a knife and fork. Though he had been a tough little boy, he is now a weepy young man, and he intends not to return after his first Rosh Hashona break, but his father won’t hear of that.

So he returns and does his best to fit in, to pick up the Jewish youth culture. In civics and history classes he gets to know the Zionist narrative of Jewish history. He has a left-wing Jewish girl friend, and he has a severe breakdown when her mother insists that after graduation they split up. He failed to graduate and took a job in an institution of the retarded. He recovers from the acute breakdown, but is pretty much a failure for the remainder of the book.

Somewhere around this point, about half way through the book, the structure of the book also goes to pieces. So far it had been telling a linear story; but now it dodges about all over the places, and becomes a series of impressionistic vignettes of unrelated incidents, though they do convey something of the character of Arab life, of the relationships inside the family, and of those between Arabs and Jews.

The narrator marries an Arab girl and they have a daughter. It’s a bad marriage. He has a job at a bar, is a slob of a husband, does nothing to help around the house, creates a mess, doesn’t bother to wash etc. They initially move into East Jerusalem, but leave during the First Intifada, which is there as a background during the rest of the novel.
For instance, until the Intifada, Tira had been quite prosperous: Jews used to come and shop there on a Sabbath, and many shopkeepers became rich enough to build extensions to their houses, buy fine cars and other luxury items. Now the Jews no longer go there.

The narrator is a self-hating Arab. Whenever possible, he distances himself from Arabs and does his best to pass as a Jew. But he knows that “once an Arab, always an Arab”.

The book ends abruptly on a note of hopelessness.
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Dancing Arabs
Dancing Arabs by Sayed Kashua (Paperback - 14 April 2004)
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