All Strangers Are Kin: Adventures in Arabic and the Arab World
By Zora O'Neill
2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 978-0-54785-3-185, $25 hb.
Reviewed by Louis Werner on May 1, 2017
After throwing herself into formal Arabic study for seven years, including an intensive course in Cairo in her 20s, the author had admitted defeat and left it all behind until, nearing 40, she decided to make another stab. She went back to Egypt and to Lebanon, Morocco and the uae in a yearlong series of visits to learn to speak the street language, not simply to read from printed books. This charming memoir, which records those episodes with an air of rediscovery both personal and learned, is sure to bring a nod of recognition to any student of Arabic, however uncomfortably he or she ever sat in that classroom, as well as to enthrall those never-students curious about the world’s fifthmost-spoken language. Arabic’s vernaculars are as varied yet simple as its pan-Arab written version is unified yet complex. The author’s anecdotes from the lived-in world bring this vividly to life as she coins puns and drops an Upper Egyptian folk idiom just as a Frenchman might a mot juste, even without full comprehension.