Talking Through the Door: An Anthology of Contemporary Middle Eastern Writing
By Susan Atefat-Peckham, ed.
2014, Syracuse UP, 978-0-81563-347-1, $34.95
Reviewed by Lou Werner on March 15, 2017
The title begs the question: Is the American door through which writers of Middle Eastern origin must pass open or closed? By the lights of how editor Atefat-Peckham anthologized these pieces, the answer depends on the curiosity of each reader. Some may like immigrant-identity poetry more than short fiction set in the old country, or gentle family memoir more than esoteric philosophical fragments inspired by the 11th-century poet Ibn Hazm. So, by that measure, there is something for everyone—works by native-born and immigrant Americans, be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim. Widely published writers like Naomi Shihab Nye share pages with lesser-known authors. The strongest piece may be a thoughtful travelogue by Pauline Khaldas about her return to Cairo as an adult a quarter century after leaving as a child. “No clear distinctions,” she writes about her self-consciousness at a beach among Alexandrians and Europeans, torn in half over what to wear and what to say. “Egyptian-Not Egyptian,” is her emphatically italicized answer.