Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere is published by Hoopoe Fiction, American University in Cairo Press.
Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere is published by Hoopoe Fiction, American University in Cairo Press.

Book review: Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge asks what does it mean to be an Arab-American



Ezzedine Choukri Fishere is a novelist fond of the unlikeable. His Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge, shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2012, opens from the point of view of a prickly, know-it-all patriarch. After that, it moves into the skin of a hapless quasi-homeless man, and then to that of the patriarch's brother-in-law, who sits in New York City's 9/11 museum in sympathy with the attackers.

“Unlikeable people are more interesting,” Fishere said, over email. “Why are they so detestable – or annoying? I want to hear their side of the story, and make it heard.” Fishere, a former diplomat and political scientist, is a master of exploring charged political territories. In this novel, now in vivid translation by John Peate, he mines the controversies and disappointments that unite and divide Arab-Americans.

The novel is told in eight linked stories, held together by a shared invitation: all are headed to a party at Professor Darwish’s well-appointed New York home.

Professor Darwish, whose chapter opens the novel, doesn’t much care for his fellow Arabs. He scorns the scholars he knew back in Egypt and doesn’t much respect his family, including his former wives, sister and his son. He does have a grudging respect for his daughter Leila, but scoffs at what she’s made of her life.

Darwish has a cold admiration for the Lebanese-British historian Albert Hourani (1915-1993), who was a key opponent of Palestinian-American theorist Edward Said (1935-2003). Although our fictional Darwish doesn't mention Said, it's clear he would have shook his head in rueful dismay at his book Orientalism and Said's theories of western prejudice against the Arab world.

Darwish’s ex-son-in-law Luqman, a Said superfan, is among the group headed toward the party. Luqman is a charming, likeable and successful man, which makes him an outlier in this novel. He’s also in love with a woman who fully returns his affection. Yet in a book full of missed opportunities, even Luqman can’t catch a happy ending. One of the most powerful chapters is the third, voiced by Darwish’s brother-in-law, a former Lebanese militiaman and 9/11 sympathiser. Fishere has a needle to thread and does a strong job of getting behind Daoud’s eyes without making his views more palatable.

Fishere said he didn’t realise to what extent the Daoud chapter would challenge red lines “until it was translated to English. In Arabic it sounded ordinary.”

He added: “Can American readers transcend their position and understand the logic of their haters? Or will they be indignant and consider it an attempt to justify hate? We shall see.”

Not all the novel’s Arabs are interested in scholarship or ideology. Darwish’s son Youssef is a former UN aid worker who quit his job to write a novel. He doesn’t make it on time to his father’s party because he is waiting for a former co-worker at a café, She, in turn, is waiting on a decision as to whether a UN press release should “regret” or “condemn” a killing. Youssef remembers his own frustrating time in Darfur, Sudan, when the atrocities he witnessed could not be prevented, nor even “condemned”, for all the political considerations.

Another powerful pillar of the book is Rabab, a sharp attorney whose chapter arrives late in the novel. Rabab was slighted in her career because of her Arab identity, and, by this point in her life, has little patience for nonsense. In the airport, she leaps fiercely to the defence of Adnan, who is apparently profiled by a security agent. They are both, by coincidence, heading to Darwish’s unlucky party. Both miss the flight, an outcome that the reader has come to expect.

Darwish’s granddaughter Salma, visiting from Egypt, helms the final chapter. She is the focus of this disastrous gathering – it is a party for her 21st birthday – but we know from the opening pages that she won’t make it on time.

We also know that Darwish, Daoud, Leila, and Luqman are all interested in shaping her future. Sweet and muddled Salma, on her first big trip alone, isn’t sure whose ideas she will adopt.

A great deal is put on Salma’s young shoulders – as though she represents, for the book, the future of all Arabs. Naturally, Salma has a series of catastrophic difficulties on her way to her grandfather Darwish’s home.

The party is Godot-esque: all waiting and no arrival. Yet as they wait, the characters also struggle to redefine themselves, to escape the narrow stories of good and bad Arabs. The result is left open to interpretation, yet the author says he hopes the characters, “at least some of them, manage to redefine themselves in a freer way”.

M Lynx Qualey is an editor and book critic. She edits the website arablit.org.

KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

A QUIET PLACE

Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Joseph Quinn, Djimon Hounsou

Director: Michael Sarnoski

Rating: 4/5

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In the box: iPhone 15 Pro Max, USB-C-to-USB-C woven cable, one Apple sticker

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Cinco in numbers

Dh3.7 million

The estimated cost of Victoria Swarovski’s gem-encrusted Michael Cinco wedding gown

46

The number, in kilograms, that Swarovski’s wedding gown weighed.

1,000

The hours it took to create Cinco’s vermillion petal gown, as seen in his atelier [note, is the one he’s playing with in the corner of a room]

50

How many looks Cinco has created in a new collection to celebrate Ballet Philippines’ 50th birthday

3,000

The hours needed to create the butterfly gown worn by Aishwarya Rai to the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.

1.1 million

The number of followers that Michael Cinco’s Instagram account has garnered.

Company profile

Name: Tratok Portal

Founded: 2017

Based: UAE

Sector: Travel & tourism

Size: 36 employees

Funding: Privately funded

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

RESULTS

5pm: Al Maha Stables – Maiden (PA) Dh80,000 (Turf) 1,400m
Winner: AF Alfahem, Tadhg O’Shea (jockey), Ernst Oetrel (trainer)
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The UAE volunteers campaign can be reached at www.volunteers.ae , or by calling 800-VOLAE (80086523), or emailing info@volunteers.ae.

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

Company Profile

Company name: Hoopla
Date started: March 2023
Founder: Jacqueline Perrottet
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 10
Investment stage: Pre-seed
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COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Almouneer
Started: 2017
Founders: Dr Noha Khater and Rania Kadry
Based: Egypt
Number of staff: 120
Investment: Bootstrapped, with support from Insead and Egyptian government, seed round of
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If you go

There are regular flights from Dubai to Addis Ababa with Ethiopian Airlines with return fares from Dh1,700. Nashulai Journeys offers tailormade and ready made trips in Africa while Tesfa Tours has a number of different community trekking tours throughout northern Ethiopia. The Ben Abeba Lodge has rooms from Dh228, and champions a programme of re-forestation in the surrounding area.



COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Xpanceo

Started: 2018

Founders: Roman Axelrod, Valentyn Volkov

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Smart contact lenses, augmented/virtual reality

Funding: $40 million

Investor: Opportunity Venture (Asia)

Company Profile

Company name: Cargoz
Date started: January 2022
Founders: Premlal Pullisserry and Lijo Antony
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 30
Investment stage: Seed

Voy! Voy! Voy!

Director: Omar Hilal
Stars: Muhammad Farrag, Bayoumi Fouad, Nelly Karim
Rating: 4/5

Results:

First Test: New Zealand 30 British & Irish Lions 15

Second Test: New Zealand 21 British & Irish Lions 24

Third Test: New Zealand 15 British & Irish Lions 15


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