The Marvels of Being Both Afghan and American: Tamim Ansary

In West of Kabul, East of New York, author Tamim Ansary (Destiny Disrupted; Games Without Rules) has written a thoroughly personal account of rediscovering his multiple selves as an Afghan from a rich culture and extended family, an American who came of age in the era of hippies and counterculture; and a Muslim in the Sufi tradition, in search of Islam’s ultimate meaning and purpose. His storytelling is straightforward and engaging, heartwarmingly so, because Ansary is a writer who cares not only about his protagonist (in this case himself) but all his characters, major and minor. The nonfiction narrative, written after the events of 9/11 in an attempt to unveil Ansary’s remembrance of Afghanistan for unknowing American readers, is a genuine page-turner, a book that should be read any anyone wishing to see the connections and common causes of east and west. In this book, it comes down to family and love of one’s country, and that’s something we can all relate to—American or Afghan, Arab or Jew, Catholic, Buddhist or atheist. Above all, Ansary is a natural bridgebuilder between civilizations. If only politicians could be this empathic. Read this book and share it with friends. —Jordan Elgrably also recommended:

Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange

Why wouldn't you want a break from the tedium of your cell phone, television screen, computer screen, iPAD or other isolating device, in order to dive head-first into some of the earliest-known Arabic stories? This new hardbound and beautiful Tales of the Marvelous and News of the Strange boasts monsters, sword-wielding statues and shocking reversals of fortune, not to mention a princess turned into a gazelle and "The Story of the Forty Girls." Continue reading

New Play on Racism in America: "Citizen, An American Lyric"

[Note from the Editor: Claudia Rankine’s award-winning poetry, Citizen, an American Lyric, has been adapted for the theatre by Stephen Sachs and directed by the accomplished Shirley Jo Finney at the Fountain Theatre. The producers describe it as “A provocative meditation on race, fusing prose, poetry, movement, music, and the visual image. A lyric poem, snapshots, vignettes, on the acts of everyday racism.” This world premiere is on stage into September 2015. With the current discussion on race and apartheid in Israel/Palestine, Citizen couldn’t be more timely. Info on the play here]   Reviewed by Rick Chertoff Only seconds into “Citizen, An American Lyric” you’ll find yourself at the “ground zero” of any black person’s life in this country, faced with the inevitability of how it is, how it always has been, and how it looks like it always will be, to be the “Other,” and it presses on you.  You realize you are up against the implacable determination — you could even say a majority conspiracy — that your life matters less than others and that in an instant (any instant), it could be time for a large or small dose of humiliation…or it could be time for a ritual killing.  You are perpetually “it.” Continue reading

"The Universe in You" Offers A New Look At Rumi’s Mystical Poetry

This new translation from a native Farsi speaker offers a new window into the mystical poetry of Rumi. Reviewed by Fred Beshid As the bestselling poet in America, Rumi (Jalaaleddin Mohammad Balkhi) requires no introduction. His universal popularity has led to his being frequently quoted and, unfortunately, often misquoted. As a result, I often wonder about the authenticity of Rumi quotes I see. The ubiquity of the thirteenth-century mystical poet within current western culture has been credited to the popularity of Coleman Barks’ translations. But when reading Barks’ translations I have always wondered about their accuracy, since Barks neither reads nor speaks Farsi. When I learned that his so-called translations are actually interpretations of other translations, I was disappointed. What I longed for was a translation by a native Farsi speaker who was also familiar with Rumi’s mystical philosophy. Continue reading

Nina Ansary Enlivens Women of Iran in "The Jewels of Allah"

In her illuminating book Jewels of Allah, Dr. Nina Ansary explores the origins of misconception about the identity of the 20th and 21st century Iranian Muslim woman. Born in Tehran in 1966 but raised in New York City, Ansary received her Ph.D. in History at Columbia and has devoted a great deal of her studies to the condition of women in Iran. Though this book is academic in its approach, the arguments and structure of the book are easy to follow and engaging. Continue reading

Cyrus Copeland's "Off the Radar" Grapples With Iranian American Identities

Having parents from two different countries or cultures has its challenges, as we learn in Cyrus Copeland's recent memoir, Off the Radar. In fact, there is a body of literature coming to the fore, in the United States and around the globe, that essentially weaves together the experiences of children composed of mixed heritage—those of us who have parents from two or more different countries, religious beliefs or ethnicities. In some circles, this is described as "being between worlds." I am one of those children, with grandparents from Morocco and Lithuania. Cyrus Copeland—whose mother is Iranian and father American—is another instance of someone who has endeavored to find his place in the world while deciphering the histories and hostilities of two countries that have been at odds with each other for most of his life. Continue reading