Middle Eastern Memoirs: Unveiled by Deborah Kanafani

For the life of me, I can’t remember which blog alerted me to the existence of Deborah Kanafani’s 2008 memoir Unveiled: How an American Woman Found Her Way Through Politics, Love and Obedience in the Middle East. Was it Helen’s Book Blog? Was it A Striped Armchair? Was it Jo V’s Book Pyramid? What I can remember is every time I saw Unveiled on the library shelf I never took it. Then one afternoon, just like with Among the Truthers, my curiosity got the better of me and I finally grabbed it. After reading a few pages, I liked it. To me it felt like one of those easy reading kind of books you place near your pillow and read at night just prior to falling asleep. But the more I read it before going to sleep, the more I wanted to read it. So, before I knew it I had finished Unveiled and was feeling pretty good about my decision to check it out from the library.

In her memoir, Kanafani, a Lebanese-American (also cousin of past Secretary of Heath and Human Services and current President of the University of Miami Donna Shalala), recalls her life starting with her childhood and her parents’ stormy marriage, thanks to her father’s philandering and reckless behavior. In her early 20s while cruising to Europe aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 she caught the eye of the Prince of Jordan and his royal entourage. Courted by him to be his wife, she eventually declined his offer of marriage. Had she married him, she would have eventually found herself Queen.

However, through her dealings with the Prince and his associates she would cross paths with Marwan Kanafani, a dashing Palestinian soccer player turned activist. They would fall in love and get married, but just like her parents’ marriage tensions would develop between the two of them, eventually leading to the couple’s divorce. Marwan would go on to be a rising start within the PLO and one of Arafat’s right hand men. But in spite of  her failed marriage, thanks to her past association with her husband she would meet a number of significant and larger than life personalities. Committed to finding a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she would go on to dialog and work with a fascinating array of peace activities, both Arab and Jew.

One of the main reasons I liked Unveiled is it gave me a chance to see the behind the scenes stuff that was going on during the 90’s, a period full of optimism for a lasting Arab-Israeli peace. With both sides encouraged by the Clinton administration and the Europeans to reach a peaceful settlement of sorts, it looked like one was finally at hand. Sadly, in Unveiled she shows us through her eyes how things fell apart and violence spiraled out of control. But as sad as that is, I found her memoir charming and full of hope. I also found it surprisingly good.

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Filed under Arab World, Area Studies/International Relations, Current Affairs, History, Islam, Israel, Memoir, Middle East/North Africa

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