Picks and Pans Review: Arabian Jazz

updated 08/09/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/09/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Diana Abu-Jaber

While Abu-Jaber's first novel mines familiar turf—the immigrant experience—she digs into a singular and little-known community: Arab-Americans in a poor-white small town in upstate New York. Matussem Ramoud is a jazz-loving displaced Jordanian who married an American only to have her die of typhus on their first visit "home."

But where is home? The question has resonance not only for Matussem and the endless stream of relatives who ferry back and forth between the old and new countries, but also for Matussem's American-born daughters, the dreamy and drifting Jemorah and her sister, Melvina, a fanatical nurse whom even the matchmaking Auntie Fatima accepts as pretty much doomed to spinsterhood. Arabian Jazz is thick with sympathetic characters who revel in and curse their plight in hilarious fractured English. But while Abu-Jaber, daughter of an American mother and a Jordanian father, renders the people poignantly, the story is wan and skids to an unsatisfying hall. (Harcourt Brace, $21.95)

From Our Partners