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The hyphenated identity and the question of belonging: a study of Samia Serageldin's The Cairo House.

The hyphenated identity is a term that implies a dual identity, an ethnocultural one, and evokes questions and debates regarding which side of the hyphen the person belongs to. Such questions often loom large in the minds of immigrants, those who leave one country for another, one culture for the other. The hyphen makes them liable to be seen as oscillating between their two cultures and feeling a conflict or a tension arising between cultures. Sometimes immigrants manage to assimilate at the expense of their original and ancestral culture or, at the other end of the spectrum, they fail to blend in with their new environment. In other cases they try hard to maintain an equilibrium between the two, which is not an easy thing to do. The literature produced by writers of a dual or a hyphenated identity is likely to discuss these questions and to have a multicultural and multiethnic dimension. It often exists in countries that are largely composed of immigrants, and the US is a prominent example. (27) It previously assumed the famous label of the melting pot where immigrants from different parts of the world were supposed to start afresh and to relinquish their ethnic identities. They were required to adapt their old values to what Martha Boudakian defines as the "white supremacist U.S. mainstream culture, wherein ... people of color are urged to consider ... [themselves] physically, historically, and ideologically white" (Boudakian 35). (28)

With the passage of time and the birth of consecutive generations from various ethnic backgrounds, some of these ethnically diverse immigrants started to take and show pride in their ancestral pasts and insist on demonstrating their dual identities. Consequently, to use Maha El Said's words, "the melting pot myth was replaced by the 'patch-work quilt' and multiculturalism gained the foreground in [the] American society" (El-Said 3). However, the ancestral past and culture, which later generations of immigrants revived, were influenced by their American background. This attitude resulted in the emergence and strong presence of certain ethnic groups that assumed a "hyphenated identity," and, according to El Said, "the hyphenated American became a striking feature of American culture" (El-Said 7). This "ethnic revival is fundamentally based on a search for one's root, a search for ancestral links, a search for a group to belong to creating a self that has a continuity between past and present" (El Said 5). It manifested itself in the literary productions of writers of ethnic backgrounds and resulted in "the upsurge of 'ethnic literature' in the United States in the 1970s" (Abindaer, "Mahjar" 1). Thus, we started to hear of the African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and recently, Arab-Americans. Joanna Kadi, an Arab-American writer, shows her pride in the term Arab-American or Arab-Canadian saying: "It allows us to reclaim the word Arab, to force people to hear and say a word that has become synonymous with 'crazy Muslim terrorists.' It affirms our identity and links us to our brothers and sisters in Arab countries" (Kadi xviii). (29)

The literature produced by Arab-Americans and other writers of various ethnic groups has enriched American literature and created "new traditions." It has caused a change in its "venues, sensibilities and themes" and made it a "continually evolving multicultural literature" (US Society and Values 2). Consequently, to quote Samia Serageldin, an Arab-American writer, "the American literary scene, once the preserve of the sweeping Great American novel, has increasingly come to reflect the trend of celebrating diversity as Americans of various ethnicities discover their hyphenated identities" ("Reflections and Refractions" 192). A voice that has recently been discovered is that of the Arab-Americans who have been described by Joanna Kadi as "The Most Invisible of the Invisibles" (Kadi xix). Their literature, according to Elmaz Abinader, another Arab-American writer, "is experiencing a renaissance," and she attributes it to the "recent atmosphere in the United States of enjoying and celebrating literature of culture and immigration" (Abinader, "Mahjar" 11). Samia Serageldin also remarks that the last decade has witnessed "a flowering of novels and narrative non-fiction in English by writers of Arab heritage" ("Reflections and Refractions" 192). (30) In this sense, they are losing their "invisibility." However, Abinader rightly argues that the Arab-American literary tradition is not a recent one, but rather "goes back to the early years of the twentieth century, and continues to thrive today"; for "the Arab-Americans were among the first immigrant writers to organize and be recognized as a literary force by the broad U.S. literary community" (Abinader, "Mahjar" 11) (31).

The literature of Arab-Americans, as well as that of other hyphenated authors, "make[s] the complexities of identity and place the focal points of their work and persona" (Abinader, "Mahjar" 5). (32) This is clear in the fact that there have always been debates among Arab-Americans related to which side of their heritage they identify with. Some, to quote Lisa Suhair Majaj, believe that the "Arab-American identity is in essence a transplanted Arab identity" that is supposed to preserve its Arab culture and language and remain involved in Middle Eastern politics. Another group believes that "it is intrinsically American and should be understood in relation to the American context and American framework of assimilation and multiculturalism" (Majaj, "Hyphenated Author"). It is true that an Arab-American can manage to work both sides but according to Majaj, "there tends to be a discernable orientation towards one or the other side of the hyphen" (Majaj, "Hyphenated Author"). (33) This tension over identification and the attempt to reconcile both sides of the hyphen characterize many Arab-American texts. This is quite obvious in Arab-American poetry, which according to El Said, "is a search for an identity and a place to house this identity in" (El-Said 16). The same search is celebrated in other literary genres and a good example is Samia Serageldin's semi-autobiographical novel, The Cairo House, 2000.

The issues of identity and place are raised in the novel's prologue in which the question "Where do I belong?" is posed by the protagonist of the work, Gihan or Gigi, implying a feeling of uncertainty related to where her true home is. The text starts with Gigi on a plane taking her home and about to land in Cairo Airport. Thus, the novel, according to Mona Zaki, "begins at a critical junction in the life of any exile [or immigrant]: returning home" (Zaki 136). However, it is an inevitable junction or moment for, as May Mansoor Munn remarks, "Only then will the splinters of our many selves merge into a single strand" (May Munn 94). (34) When filling the landing card, the question related to the purpose of visit evokes a series of thoughts inside Gigi's mind: "What is the purpose of my visit? ... I have come back to claim what's mine.... To find two children I left behind when I ran away a decade ago: one child is my son and the other the girl I once was. The future and the past. Between them they hold the key to the question I have come to try to resolve: where do I belong? Where is this chameleon's natural habitat?" (2). These lines reveal Gigi's dilemma: she is at midway, standing at a dividing line. They also show the novel's two trajectories which are, to quote Mona Mikhail, "a quest to retrieve or re-visit the past, and an attempt to assess the present of an expatriate re-planted in a/the new world" (Mikhail 516).

From the very beginning, we learn that Gigi's stay in Cairo will be a search for her true self and home as if embodying Lisa Majaj's following lines from her poem "Recognized Futures": "this part of myself I long/to recognize ..." (5). Serageldin admitted that, like her protagonist, in writing this novel: "I was recovering my lost voice, [and] ... trying to reconcile my present with my past" ("Live in Interesting Time" 8).When asked by a couple from Minneapolis, who were with her on the plane, where she comes from, the immediate answer is "I live in New Hampshire" (2). But is it home? Gigi comments on her answer saying: "It is not evasiveness, nor even the instinct to resist being pigeon-holed. It is only that any answer I give will be just as incomplete and misleading, so this is as good--or bad--as any other" (2). In other words, it is a question she herself finds difficult to answer and leaves her with so many unanswered questions about her life. They loom in her head while the plane is still circling above Cairo airport which gives her the chance to look at her life from far and above and to have a holistic view of that life.

The very first setting of the novel is the airport, the perfect meeting point of different worlds, cultures and nationalities. According to Gigi, it is the most suitable place for those who assume various identities, those "who have more than one skin, ... where the secret act of metamorphosis takes place, an imperceptible shading into a hint of a different gait, a softening or a crispening of an accent" (1). It is the ideal setting for people like her "whose past and present belong to different worlds ... [it is] a transitional limbo" (1). At the end of the novel's prologue, Gigi hands in her American passport, but the officer recognizes the name Seif-el Islam and tells her "Hamdillah alsalam, Welcome home" (5). So her Arabic name and American passport construct her two-poled identity as an Arab-American from the beginning. As she passes through the gate, she sees in the Minneapolis couple's eyes that she "no longer belong[s] to their world" (5). Thus, once more we are reminded of the major question of the novel: where does she belong and where is her true home? Is it in New Hampshire where she has been living for ten years, or in Cairo where she was born and lived for a great deal of her life?

In an attempt to help her protagonist find the answer, Serageldin divides her novel into three parts. The first one is entitled "Photographs," the second "Exile," and the third, "Return." Each part is representative of a certain phase of her life. In the first part, Gigi leaves the airport and heads to her Cairo home, but she cannot sleep well through the night, not only as a result of jet lag, but also because of the noise around her. In the past she would not have minded it and would have slept well. To overcome her insomnia, she looks at her mother's photo album. Photographs stop a moment from running away and help one contemplate the passage of time while simultaneously trying to stop it. Consequently, through them our heroine manages to fix certain moments of time and place and to present, in the first part of the novel, a retrospective narration of the girl she once was. Some of these photographs are black and white, referring nostalgically to the bygone days, whereas others ate in color.

She looks at the family album and stops before two photographs that represent influential people and events in her life as a child. The first picture includes her parents and herself and was taken just before the feast of the sacrifice (the grand Biram) in 1961 when she was nine years old. On that particular occasion she had an unforgettable experience, that of watching the slaughtering of the lamb for the first and last time in her life. She exaggerated what happened and held herself responsible for the breaking of a ritual which, from her point of view, was responsible for a curse that befell her family. She remarks: "Looking back I realize that this experience left a deeper mark on me more than anyone could have foreseen at the time: a fear of curiosity, a squeamishness, an avoidance of the messy, unsettling underside of life that left me singularly unprepared to deal with it as an adult" (19).

The curse was the confiscation of her family's properties, money and jewelry. That blow happened in the same year, 1961, after Nasser's speech on the anniversary of the 1952 Revolution. She did not quite understand the speech, but remembers the constant reference to "the enemies of the people" (20). Apparently, her family members were victimized and classified as such. Imprisoned, deprived of his properties, and prevented from practicing law or any other profession, her father ended with the job of an "invalid" (74). As a result, their financial situation was badly affected; she sensed that despite her family's attempt to hide what was happening from her. At school, the situation was equally terrible. She was surrounded by whispers and heard herself being called "la pauvre petite."

On her birthday, unlike the previous years, none of her friends or school mates attended the party, except a distant cousin. She was told that it was not safe to associate with them because of the Sequestration. Commenting on that incident, Mona Russell remarks: "Despite her [Gigi's] young age she became a persona non grata ..." (Russell 5). The Arabic teacher, while explaining the new mandatory subject "Arab Socialism," used to speak of the enemies of the people, the landowners or capitalists and look at her and her distant cousin. She later explained how difficult their life was for "the intelligence agent at the door took note of every visitor, ... the telephone was tapped and the servants were spies" (42). As a result only a few people would risk visiting them. In other words, they were to some extent living in exile.

One of the negative effects of all that they went through was her awareness "of bearing the burden of belonging. You couldn't help it, when the mention of your last name invariably provoked a reaction not always easy for a child to read: dread or pity, envy or commiseration. You grow up unable to reconcile family loyalty with the virulent rhetoric from public podiums" (27). Thus, the first chapters of this part reveal Gihan or Gigi as a character whose background is very complicated. Like many of the first generation of Arab-Americans, she suffered from political and social oppression and alienation in her own country, a feeling that started since her childhood. But we later learn that that was not the main cause which drove her to leave her homeland. We also realize that she suffered from an identity crisis even as a child in Egypt. One main reason was the political and social conditions of the country during the sixties and the turbulent upheavals that turned her family's life upside down. This is clear in the repeated use of "the good old days," or "before the revolution." Another reason that led to that feeling was her own upbringing and the foreign education she received which made her alien from her own culture and the rest of the Egyptians.

Gigi's description of her childhood shows her as a sheltered child who lived in an idealistic world of her own. She had a well-to-do life even after the catastrophe of the Sequestration befell the family. She went to a French school and the language spoken at home was mostly French with her French nanny, Helene, who represents another example of a displaced person. She was married to an expatriate Italian count whose considerable properties in Egypt were dispossessed by the English during the Second World War. After her husband's death she had to work as a governess for a living. Her death, like her life, went unnoticed which is sometimes the case with the displaced. No one ever knew where or how she died; she simply disappeared.

Unlike her strong relationship with her French nanny, Gigi was alienated from the Egyptian servants who worked in their house. The family maid, Om Khalil, served them for a long time and Gigi shows how they were kind to her; however, we do not know much about her background as is the case with Helene. Gihan was even indignant at Om Khalil for sighing loudly after the death of Nasser claiming: "our father is gone." She clearly explains her shock that the woman made her livelihood from the family whose "avowed enemy" was Nasser (67). It is also obvious that she is unaware of one sect of her society, that of the peasants. She oversimplifies their attitudes and characters when she comments on their reaction to the 1952 Revolution saying: "the fellahin accepted the momentous change with their usual mixture of resignation and indifference ..." (40). Gigi was not only aloof from certain classes in her society, but was also weak in Arabic and sometimes could not even understand the meaning of some common Egyptian idioms such as the one used by the cook who told her mother that "he owed them the flesh on his shoulders;" which means he owes them his livelihood (21).

Moreover, she used to read only in French. When advised by her father to read Naguib Mahfouz's novels, she could not assimilate or identify with his characters or settings and found them "depressing" (45). In fact, one can feel the big cultural gap between her world and Mahfouz's, which is a true representation of the Egyptian society. She remarks that on passing by "some of these back alleys," she would bury her nose in a French novel "avoiding the sight of the beggars; of the carcasses of meat hanging on hooks in front of the butcher shops; of the flies on children's faces; of the peasant woman sitting cross-legged on the railway station platform, suckling a baby on one swollen bare breast" (45). Moreover, when she witnesses a truck filled with people from the countryside, she describes their clothes and singing like a foreigner watching an unusual folkloric scene from a country he/she is visiting. Similarly, on her way to the graveyard following her father's death, she watches with fascination the streets of old Cairo and the city of the dead just like tourists (118). This alienation is obvious in the fact that despite her use of Arabic words, Gigi repeatedly uses French words in different everyday-life situations in the novel.

This obvious cultural alienation is commented on by her aunt's husband who used to mock his brothers-in-law for being "Europeanized" (37). Nevertheless, Gigi constantly attempts to show how her family members were deeply rooted in the Egyptian soil. She mentions that the culture she was brought up in was a "hybrid culture" where "Western norms were [in some instances] unhesitatingly sacrificed on the altar of tradition" (11). She also remarks that the cuisine and etiquette at their house "may have been more or less cosmopolitan, but the spirit of hospitality was as uncompromisingly Egyptian as that of the country people with whom we shared our roots" (25). Still, in the case of the heroine, the reader does not sense this strong belongingness to the country people which she so much talks about.

The second photograph she stops before includes her father, Shamel, his dear friend Ali Tobia and the father's beloved niece, Gihan or Gina, her namesake. We learn of Shamel's role in introducing his favorite niece to his friend Tobia, her future husband. It was a love marriage that was not easily accepted. The suitor was refused by Gina's father for fear of being a fortune hunter and due to the modern life style of his sisters since they drove cars and smoked in public (37). The second reason gives Gigi a chance to criticize her sexist society for ironically it was good for a woman to have "the best kind of reputation" which meant "none" (38). Gina is also presented as a different woman from those of her day. She was a rebel as she insisted on her choice and wouldn't marry anyone except the man she loved. With 1952 her husband was the only one who became wealthier and more successful. But it was at the expense of his family life, for his wife soon fell in love with another man, a Maronite Lebanese. Divorced, Gina was to leave Egypt, but before so doing, she bid good bye to her favorite uncle, Shamel. He was harsh with her and simply told her "Good bye, Gihan" (41). He never recovered this shock as he was quite a romantic who could not forgive Gina for disillusioning him and breaking his heart as well as his friend's.

Gigi watched that goodby scene which represented another unforgettable experience that deeply affected her and made her remark: "Do we ever realize what a far-flung web we weave by our actions? (176). It made her decide never to disillusion her father in such a way. She even remarked that Gina could never imagine the effect she left on the adolescent girl who was watching her from the corner. She writes: "But there was no way anyone could have imagined then that Gina's story would lie like a palimpsest under mine, long after it had faded from memory" (42). Gina's good bye scene is referred to more than once in the novel. So, years later, on the terrace of their house our protagonist would recall it and think that it was the disillusioned romantic in her father who accepted his daughter's loveless marriage (90). Thus, through these two photographs, Gigi conducts the search for her true self in an attempt to answer the question of belonging. In that search she recalls her early childhood and dedicates a great deal of the first part to that phase of her life which is always regarded as an important element of identity formation. Consequently, this phase looms large in autobiographies and memoirs as it represents a good link to parents and family.

A second group of pictures is examined; they are in color, implying a change in time, mood, and feelings, and referring to another stage, that of the young bride. Gigi could familiarize herself with the nine-year-old girl, but the bride of nineteen seems a total stranger to her. At that phase of her life, she recalls herself as exceptionally sheltered and naive due to many things. One of them was the political and social situation of her family which made her, to use Mona Russell's words, "retreat into the world of books" and imagination (Russell 2). She was also suffering from a strong feeling of insecurity. She speaks of the police state created by Nasser, or El-Raiis, as she calls him, with thousands of ears and eyes lurking at every corner (44). Her sleep was light and was always tense at dawn, the time when her father was taken to the internment camp. With bitterness she describes the terrible consequences of his regime: "Nasser's sequestration decree went far beyond the confiscation of wealth or the stripping of civil liberties. It was the sharply-honed instrument of his malice: it emasculated, it isolated, it muzzled, it humiliated, it stigmatized; it forced retirement on men in their prime; it immured them in their homes" (44). Even the women in the family were under constant surveillance and went on whispering, long after Nasser's death, out of habit (46). In this sense, we notice how in this work like many Arab-American texts, "the political impinges on the personal" making a political reading of this novel inescapable ("Reflections and Refractions" 200).

This background had its effect on Gigi who "learned to be unquestioning and accepting" although she "cultivated a bubbly surface" (44). In a personal interview with Samia Serageldin she remarked that "as a child, she [Gigi] had been quite feisty and curious, but the traumatic experience of witnessing the Eid sacrifice (exaggerated in her childish mind) plus the circumstance of the sequestration, dampened her spirit and made her a docile young girl" (Sharobeem, interview). It is interesting that in that phase, the protagonist/narrator speaks of herself in the third person, which increases the feeling of isolation from the young woman of eighteen and nineteen. At that stage of her life, she was only waiting for something to happen; and it did with the proposal of marriage she received from Yussef, a young man who was studying for a doctorate degree in London. Accepting or refusing this proposal was the first real decision she had to make in life. But even then, she accepted that marriage because she was expected to, an attitude that was commented on by her cousin who told her: "You always did what you were expected to do" (177).

With her wedding a new phase of loneliness and estrangement took place. It was on two levels; on the one hand, she was away from home and her family, living in a cold strange city, London, for the first time in her life. On the other hand, she was psychologically lonely; for her marriage, right from the beginning, did not work out. She also lived with him in different places: London, Cairo, Jedda, which gave her no real feelings of settlement. Gigi also recalls herself as a mother and reveals, through the image of the kaleidoscope, that having Tarek, her only child, was a turning point in her life and character:
   If you examined the turning points in a life, could you pinpoint
   the exact twists of the kaleidoscope that set the pattern? If you
   could go back in time and change course, would you? Or would there
   be some part of the past that you would be unwilling to give up for
   a second chance? A child, it has been said, is your hostage to
   fortune: henceforth your choices are never free. (72)

Consequently, she decided, for her son's sake, to start anew with Yussef. Though during her five-year-stay in London, she never had a problem about her true identity and borne, she still felt on her permanent return to Egypt, that she "clutched at the idea of a structure, of roots" (73). However, after coming back to her homeland, they were deprived of their independence and privacy, a remark that reveals her discomfort with certain elements of her culture. Her dream of settling down with her husband was shattered when he left for Saudi Arabia for work. Joining him for only a week, she had a cultural shock due to the life style that was totally different from hers; for she could not get into Jedda without a guarantor, a mihrem, and had to wear a scarf whenever she got out of the house (80). Moreover, she could not stand the position of women in Saudi Arabia and their monotonous idle life. Such remarks express her inability to adapt to other Arab cultures.

Going back to Egypt, she lived with her child in the house of her father whose death finalized her marriage. It was a painful experience and the scene of his death, the strongest in the novel, is described in powerful emotions without being overtly melodramatic. She finally decides on the divorce and acts as an agent for the first time in her life. She uses once more the image of the kaleidoscope:
   Sometimes it takes almost an imperceptible shift in the
   kaleidoscope for the pattern to come into focus. Sometimes
   all it takes is the removal of one sliver of colored shapes
   for the entire image to change. It seemed that in her life,
   endings and beginnings were marked not with a bang, but with
   a whimper. But this time, at least, she had not merely floated
   along like a leaf downstream. This time she had taken a
   decision. (97)

While going through the divorce, she met Luc or le petit Luc, her French nanny's godson and they kept seeing each other during his stay in Egypt. He made her able to breathe freely for the first time. The reader feels that her relationship with Luc satisfied the rebel inside her against her aunt's future matchmaking. During that period of her life, we see how difficult it is for a divorced woman to live in an oriental culture. Her uncle advises her to be very careful in her social life (outings and gatherings) for she "can't afford even a breath of a scandal" (102). Gigi's life took a different turn when she realized that her ex-husband was not serious about the divorce and could revoke the divorce ruling. Meanwhile, it was the last year in Sadat's regime and he put all his opponents, including the Pasha, her uncle, in prison. Hence, "her last hope of putting pressure on Yussef was gone" (124). She thought the only way out was to leave the country, so she fled to France.

Such a serious and daring decision seems to be unexpected and contradicts Gigi's sheltered and submissive nature. Thus, it seems to be out of character. In a personal interview with the author, she defended her heroine's attitude saying: "when her father dies, she [Gigi] is freed from the constraints of trying not to disappoint him, and she acts decisively in seeking a divorce, which traps her into running away" (Sharobeem, interview). Still, Serageldin does not depict her heroine's inner thoughts deeply enough to make the reader convinced of that sudden change in her character. Her decision to escape was a miscalculated one for which she paid dearly. It started the exile period of her life, first in Paris and then in New Hampshire. As an act of revenge, Yussef revoked the divorce and thus it was impossible for her to go back to Egypt as she would be under his mercy. She comments on her decision saying: "When she had left, she had fled as if she were escaping a trap about to close on her. Now she felt as if she were in exile, waiting for her sentence to be commuted in order to return" (125).

In this exile, Gigi, in addition to her estrangement and loneliness, seems like an amputee and feels "empty and incomplete" for having to leave Tarek behind (135). One also senses her confusion and believes that her life is taking wrong turns. This feeling is evident after renewing her acquaintance with Luc, and losing the way while driving back to Paris from his family home in the countryside. When she finally married Luc, who had converted to Islam only "on paper pour la forme" (133), the reader feels that she was once more pushed again into the marriage: she was not yet able to go back to Egypt and Luc was about to leave for the United Sates as a correspondent, which meant that she would be alone in Paris.

With this second marriage, another exiled stage in her life begins in the U.S. When the protagonist reviews that decision, she resorts again to the image of the kaleidoscope and the consequent effect of changing the lens (138). Distance and the use of this image help the narrator, through the first two parts of the novel, to review her past life from a different perspective. In an interview with Serageldin, she remarked: "I find the image of the kaleidoscope very helpful for people with a transitional identity, ... [which] is a difficult thing to live with. It is a bifocal view; for you see the world differently depending on which lens you choose to use and the kaleidoscope allows this, presents that through a small shift of the lens.... That was the case with Gigi and anyone with a transitional identity. The vision shifts."

Instead of living in New Hampshire temporarily, as planned at first, Gigi stayed for ten years, during which time this snowy landscape provided her with a new home and identity. In that sense, Gigi is a first-generation-immigrant, which makes her situation different from the other U.S. settlers who come with the deliberate intention of creating a new home there. Moreover, she has no family members in this new land which means the absence of any sense of rootedness. (35) Her feelings of estrangement and isolation from the woman she used to be are quite manifest when she remarks, "some part of her mind ... had difficulty recognizing the Gigi of old in the woman she had become in this northern town of snowcapped steeples and ice hockey" (139, 138).

Thus, she needed to go back to her homeland to disentangle her original culture and true self from the intricate web of daily life in her American context which became the other side of her hyphenated identity. To be accepted in their new society, immigrants have to appear American and to "pass" for white, two important conditions realized and mentioned by many Arab-American writers. (36) It was not easy for many immigrants to do so; however, it was the opposite with Gigi, who succeeded in passing. Thus, assimilation, which is difficult for some immigrants, was a problem for her in a totally different way. She was accepted so much into the mainstream that she became anxious about her ancestral past and feared that her ethnic self was overshadowed by the dominant host culture. In other words, Gigi started to experience a "sense of dislocation" in a different way ("Reflections and Refractions" 196).

Serageldin's protagonist admits that the main reason behind her coming back home was because: "Even to herself she had become something of a stranger; her native language no longer came naturally to her tongue; the memories of her old life seemed to have taken place in another dimension" (139). Consequently, when she later returns home and talks to the porter, she needs to rummage in her head for correct replies (165). In this sense she brings to mind the Tamil poet R. Parthasarathy who writes:
   "There is something to be said for exile:
   You learn that roots ate deep.
   That language is a tree, loses colour
   Under another sky." (Qtd. in Bennett 4)

We can guess that another reason behind the heroine's desire to return home was her hope to find a sense of peoplehood that was missing in New Hampshire as a result of the absence of an Egyptian or Arab community. According to Maha El Said "Ethnic group membership can provide a welcomed alternative to the modern sense of alienation. In place of the typical American identity, rooted in fierce individualism, ethnic group membership creates a sense of peoplehood, belonging to a rich cultural heritage" (El Said 6). Moreover, she was married to a foreigner and realized from the beginning that their union would be fruitless; for they were like those "species that can mate but not reproduce" (140). Gradually, in their attempt to adapt to this neutral territory, they ended up being strangers to each other and their relationship was characterized by "silence and space" (140).

Silence, from another perspective, was the price Gigi paid for blending into her new environment: she remained silent about her past. Thus, her attitude coincided with Michelle Cliff's belief that: "Passing demands a desire to become invisible," to have "a ghost-life;" it "demands quiet. And from that quiet-silence" (Cliff 5, qtd. in Majaj, "Boundaries," 80). Her desire for silence is common to other Arab-American writers. For example, Lisa Suhaire Majaj remarks: "While the incidents that first made me afraid to reveal myself in the United States were minor ... they were enough to thrust me firmly back into a desire for invisibility. I sought anonymity as if trying to erode the connections that had brought me, juncture by juncture..." (Majaj, "Boundaries," 79-80). The perfect symbol suggesting invisibility, changing skin, and the idea of metamorphosis is the chameleon. Consequently, Majaj uses it and writes: "Silence made it possible for me to blend into my surroundings, chameleon-like; it enabled me to absorb without self revelation what I needed to know" (Majaj, "Boundaries," 79-80). Similarly, our heroine makes use of this image more than once in this part and describes herself as one; for she "had tried to blur her edges and lose her accent" since she came to New Hampshire (142). This leitmotif is very important in the novel whose prologue is entitled the "Chameleon." The narrator/protagonist defines true chameleons as
   the ones who straddle two worlds, segueing smoothly from one
   to the other, adjusting language and body language, calibrating
   the range of emotions displayed, treading the tightrope of
   mannerisms and mores. If it is done well, it can look deceptively
   effortless, but it is never without cost. There is no hypocrisy
   involved, only the universal imperative underlying good manners;
   to do the appropriate thing, to make those around you comfortable.
   For the chameleon, it is a matter of survival. (1-2)

Serageldin regards this leitmotif as another important image in her work and admits certain elements in common between her and her heroine; after all this is a semi-autobiographical work. She writes: "There was no room in this brave new world for my memories of jasmine and dust. I locked away my photograph albums of Egypt in the attic and blended into my new environment like a perfect chameleon. Friends who knew me for years barely knew where I was born. There was no hypocrisy involved; only the imperative to compartmentalize in order to survive" ("Live in Interesting times" 8). In a personal interview, she later comments:
   The Chameleon represents an animal that needs to blend with its
   surrounding to survive.... The idea of the Chameleon also comes
   from the fact that in any society, whether at home or anywhere
   else, you have to assimilate. Her marriage [Gigi's] and attempt
   to assimilate into the American society happen at the cost of
   forgetting the past. In the case of other immigrants whose lives
   in America is compatible with their past, in their attempt to
   assimilate there would be no problem. But Gigi's past life was
   completely different or incompatible with her life in the States.
   She was required to do this act of compartmentalization which is
   a rigid image that indicates setting up barriers. The Chameleon
   is a fluent image that suggests going through periods of setting
   up compartments between past and present lives. People know about
   her what she allowed them to know. These compartments seemed to
   restrict her, but also ... to protect her.... One resists breaking
   down one's defense in public. You lose the immunity of conformity,
   the protective coloring of the Chameleon. (37)

Consequently, we notice that only one character in her new environment learned that she was previously married and had a son from her first marriage. Moreover, Gigi felt like those "'sleeper' agents ... popular in Cold War fiction," for people only knew one facet of her character (141). The "sleepers" represent a third image used by Serageldin to explain the identity crisis of her protagonist. She remarks that Gigi "had something to hide like the sleepers ... [who] would go to any society to assimilate ... and wait to come to life when they have orders.... You are not what you seem to be; you pretend to be of the society but you are not. You are an outsider pretending to be an insider" (Sharobeem, interview).

With her decision to go back home to see Tarek, to feel like an insider and get reacquainted with the country, the third and last part of the novel, "Return," begins. One feels that like Lisa Majaj, our heroine "longed not to be defined by the gaze of the other, but to look out upon the world through eyes rooted in the boundaries of ... [her] own identity" (Majaj, "Boundaries" 67). The beginning of this part takes us back to the prologue. The first sentence of the third part is "I close the album of photographs," which indicates the beginning of the search for her true self and home through dealing with the present (149). Throughout the first two parts of the novel the narrator/protagonist has been conducting this search through surveying her past in a way similar to psycho/self analysis and dissection. The present is inseparable from the past; so she goes back to her family villa which has been rented to an American company that turned it into offices. They built a "small pied-a-terre on top of the villa for any visitors" and she occupies it during her stay in Egypt. She comments on the feeling of having to take permission to live in her former house: "It feels strange to be home and yet not home, to be the guest and the landlord at the same time; to look out of the window at a familiar view and then return back to an unfamiliar room" (149). This remark could be indicative of her future confused feelings about her homeland. In the meantime, we sense her feeling of nostalgia as well as that of guilt while reviewing the remnants of her family's furniture.

In Egypt, Gigi starts getting the same old feelings as if she had never gone away and feels more alive than she has been in years. She begins thinking of her marriage to Luc as if it belonged to the past and reconsiders separating from him to start her life back again in Egypt. Her context in New Hampshire with all its details "seemed so far away, another world;" and "The past ten years seem like an interlude, a sharp zig in the flat line of experience, a detour in the insurmountable bump in the road" (182, 201). Like true chameleons, she realizes that once she has blended into a new environment, it becomes difficult to imagine herself anywhere else. Thus, with the approach of the end of her stay in Egypt, she wonders: "How can I give up what I have been looking for, waiting for, for so long? How can I leave, now that I feel I have come borne?" (202). However, Tamer, her second cousin, warns her and gives her a lesson: "You think you can come home and weave yourself back into the fabric of everybody's life, then rip it out again when you leave" (206).

Being in Egypt also gives her the chance to discover the racist attitudes of some of her second home inhabitants. This observation was not clear to her while living in New Hampshire, probably because her Arabic background was not known. During a trip to Luxor, she notices the racist stance of Toussaint, an American professor who works with her in the same University. In dealing with some of the persistent souvenir sellers, he assumes a haughty character and plays "the role of great white tourist" (200). Toussaint takes advantage of the whole situation which gives him the chance to "rise above his real-world self and to feel his existence justified merely as a member of a taller, fairer, finer altogether superior race" (200). But the sellers' attitude as well as the "chirping children" infuriate Gigi and confuse her: "I cannot decide which I wish to disassociate myself from urgently: Toussaint's obnoxious sense of superiority, or the grinning vendors' lack of self-restraint that fuels it" (200).

Her remarks about the vendors and the peeping children reveal that despite her nostalgic feelings, Gigi is uncomfortable about many things in her country. We see how, through this last part, she surveys the new political and social conditions in Egypt with a sharp eye. She criticizes "the terrifying cacophonous chaos of Cairo traffic" regarding it "a microcosm of the Egyptian society" where rules are only observed when enforced by the strong presence of the authorities (152). She realizes what a "nightmare" it is when a child is hit by a car, even if it is his mother's fault. For the frustration and anger of "the have-nots" will immediately turn "the mild mannered crowd ... into a mob" (153). She discusses the phenomenon of the veil and wonders how her aunt, who belonged to the first generation that refused wearing it, went back to it. She learns form her second cousin that wearing a scarf makes people "take you more seriously" (157). This new attitude gives her a chance to criticize the double standards of the Egyptian society which is willing to forgive men and ready to accuse women. She resorts to the image of the wolf and the prey, and remarks: "Whatever a man did, after all, was in his nature, rather as a domesticated wolf could be understood, if not excused, for preying on the chicken in the coop. For the chicken in the coop, however, or the farmer who left the coop unlocked, there was no sympathy" (209).

She also speaks of the fundamentalists and their attempt on Naguib Mahfouz's life and refers, under pseudonyms, to the famous incident of Professor Abu Zeid, who was claimed to be an apostate and his marriage annulled. She is startled at the fact that a good treat to her son meant going to McDonald's, and seems to be more shocked at the new money people and the splendor of their mansions in Mansouriya. This new class makes her realize that: "This was a different world from that I remembered as a child;" a world that made her think: "Sometimes, it seemed as if the country now belonged to the Infitah millionaires and the Islamists" (187, 213). Mona Mikhail rightly comments on this new class: "the class to which Gigi belongs and for which she yearns seems to be reincarnated in a class of compradors who themselves emulate the deposed and sequestered class of the heroine ... It is this class which reaps the spoils of Sadat's open door policies" (Mikhail 516). Recording all these events and changes represents a survey of Egypt in the nineties and provides the novel with a realistic historical, political, and social background, which could have been more realistic if her heroine had been given enough space to probe into the roots of all these changes.

Like many Arab-Americans, Gigi tries to maintain this insider/outsider perspective when she starts comparing and contrasting life conditions in Egypt and the States. She speaks of the misery in Egypt, evident through the great number of beggars and street children selling tissues, and remarks that it is absent in the States, her other home. Serageldin comments on this attitude saying: "Both insight and bifocal vision accompany the perspective of writers who meditate alternative realities of past and present, of remembered worlds and American realities" ("Reflections and Refractions" 197). In a discussion with her cousin, Gigi is asked if it is better to stay in Egypt and try to change things or run away. She does not know as she thinks there is no future in Egypt and compares the whole situation to someone walking on water or the dervish spinning (193). These ambivalent feelings of wanting to stay on and fearing to do so show that, like many Arab-Americans, she is not "completely at home in either culture" ("Reflections and Refractions" 197).

Gradually, Gigi starts to be fully aware of the social obligations she has to fulfill everyday if she lives in Cairo: "a dozen courtesy phone calls.... visits of congratulations or condolences ... lunch engagements," duties that seemed to her "unnecessary" and like "a frantic treadmill" (211-212). And she knows very well "I could not live that way" (212). She also begins to be overwhelmed by a strong feeling of non belongingness, "as if I spoke the language but did not understand it" (212). That feeling started at a dinner she had with her ex-husband and his wife and a circle of friends where, after hearing about the rumors and the new socio-economic situation of Egypt, she commented: "How my situation had changed. I was the outsider now" (189). The last ultimatum that shows her inability to fit in her homeland takes place during her last night in Cairo. She has a car accident which, though simple, is a "warning" that makes her feel: "It was remarkable ... that I had so far avoided having an accident driving in Cairo. But now it seemed as if I had been put on notice that my beginner's luck bad run out; my diplomatic immunity had been lifted" (227).

As a result of all these realizations and frustration, she begins, at one point in the novel, to feel "homesick" for New Hampshire, "for snow, rain, changing skies, pure air; for a long walk on a Fall day; the brilliant russet and gold of leaves that change color; the snow-muffled silence of the woods..." (211). Many of the things she longs for in her snowy city represent a criticism of the things she lacks at her ancestral home; she enumerates them: "I longed for a world in which you dial not constantly lose the battle against dust and baksheesh; for release from the pressures of traffic and people; for freedom from watchful eyes, for anonymity, an uncomplicated existence" (211). These different feelings and the oscillation between the various sides of the hyphen are typical of Arab-Americans. Consequently, through this last part, Gigi expresses feelings of longing and reluctance at the same time for her two homes.

One feels that her disappointment with her homeland is somehow related to the selling of the family home, the Cairo house from which the novel derives its title. As she romanticized the country and the world she was going back to, so does she recall with nostalgia, throughout the novel, the good old days of the house. She sums them in the last pages of the novel when she tells her son: "You can't imagine what it was like, especially during the heyday of the party [founded by her uncle], all the people, all the excitement, all the optimism" (216). Gigi presents the family headquarters in Garden City in the first chapter of the first part of her novel, provides the reader with its history, and idealistically portrays the love and respect characterizing the relationships among all the family members. She presents a vivid and detailed description of the house, or rather the mansion which reflects its grandeur and luxury. It is clear in the big garden and its fountain, the marble floor, the "blazing crystal chandelier," and others (15).

The history of the house stands for the ups and downs in her family's life: grandeur, followed by a decline and then a rebirth. Serageldin remarked: "The house is a metaphor for the Egyptian clan that is central to the story, and beyond that, for an entire era of Egyptian history and politics, an era that I try to capture and record in the book" (qtd in Meyer B5). In the good old days, when her uncle was in power (being the chief of the Cairo police and a prime minister in the old regime), the place was always vibrating with life and people. However, during Nasser's regime it was dim and void of people as its inhabitants were under house arrest. With Sadat, the house and its occupants were back into the lime light: "The Cairo House, so long dormant, shook off its cobwebs and sprang back to life..." (88). Her uncle, who resumed his political career and established an opposition party, was compared by Sadat to "a phoenix rising from the ashes" (88). However, Sadat only wanted loyal opposition, so the house and its inhabitant were out of the lime light once more. In that sense, the author makes the house reflect the political and social conditions of Egypt; and through it presents a historical background which, to quote Maha El Said, "embeds [herself and] identity in a historical context that gives solidarity to the self and its roots" (El-Said 63).

Realizing that the house might be sold, the protagonist starts taking pictures of everything in it in an attempt to engrave it in her memory. The debate related to the selling of the house makes her express the concern of most immigrants, namely, the need to come back home and find a house. She thinks:
   Living abroad, I was assumed to have severed any sentimental
   attachments I might have. It did not occur to anyone that,
   precisely because I have been uprooted, I need to know that
   the house would be here for me to come home to. Because my
   past and present were irreconcilable, I needed to be able to
   touch base, to reconnect to my old self. The house was my
   link to the past, to Papa; it was part of Tarek's
   heritage. (222)

Consequently, Gigi urges her son to see the family house, for Tarek has dim memories of the place which is representative of the ignorance of the new generation of their history. This ignorance could be represented in the fact that many houses, like Gigi's family home, have been sold to foreign embassies. Accordingly, her last words in the novel's epilogue are: "One day I will drive past the Cairo House, and it will be flying a foreign flag. I might go back to Egypt, but I will never go home again" (233).

The word "home" in her concluding sentence could refer to the Cairo House as well as her mentally idealized homeland, Egypt; both homes will be lost for ever. Thus, this final remark best explains the one important lesson Gigi comes out with after her home coming: "since my return to Egypt I am beginning to realize myself that there never really is a tomorrow that repeats the lost moment of today"; and consequently she tries to teach her son to "enjoy the moment rather than to try to capture it" (196). Applying this lesson, she becomes aware of the fact that her search for the two children she left behind is pointless. The world of the nine-year-old-Gigi is gone forever and will never be captured again. In other words, she becomes aware that her "quest to retrieve and recapture her childhood" and her "attempts to reconstitute what was irretrievably lost, an era and her secure childhood" are futile (Mikhail 515).

As for the second child, Tarek, he was not the young boy she thought him to be; for he has become an independent teenager. She realizes how distance and culture have set them apart, for her son has "the typical male protective reflex" as a result of being raised in Egypt and acquiring the traits of its culture (197). Besides, his character differs from hers, as he would not do what is expected of him. Therefore, her expectations of his coming to live with her were not fulfilled, like many of the prospects she had for her homecoming. She finally decides to let him take his own decisions without practicing any kind of emotional blackmail. She even concludes that it is wrong of her to think that after all those years she could come back and claim her son like "lost luggage" (225). Gigi's full awareness of these facts is evident when she remarks: "I wanted to stay ... [but] was afraid to risk the past for the present, to lose the gift of memories ... [for] I had come back too late: too late to claim what was mine or could have been.... [T]here was no place for me here now" (230).

Such a remark makes us feel that the protagonist's departure for the States is her only choice. Still, we sense that she is trying to run away from facing some unresolved matters, like her relationship with Tamer who confronts her saying: "you're always running away, Gigi. From places, from people. What are you running away from this time? Me? Do you even know what you're running to? You have to stop sometime. Stay and find out" (230). Such an attitude suits her sheltered submissive character which makes it difficult for her to take a daring decision and start over. This is actually the dichotomy about Gigi: despite the fact that she criticizes her sexist society and its attitude towards women, she herself stands as a weak woman who chose to remain an object, went on doing what was expected of her and "moved downstream like a leaf borne along by the water," to use her own words (43). She writes: "I would go back [to New Hampshire] because I had made my bed, I must lie in it" (230).

Consequently, the night of her departure from Cairo, despite her inability to believe that she is leaving Egypt, she puts on the other side of her hyphenated identity, the American one, when she puts away the Egyptian money and replaces it with dollars, and packs her American passport, credit cards, phone book, and driver's license. It is a deadly decision and she is fully aware of its consequences; therefore, on the plane taking her back to New Hampshire, she states that the adventure of her life is over and that, like many people who "die inside," she will keep up her routine and, through "duty and obligations," will "keep going round and round the treadmill" (233). These feelings reveal that though Gigi has decided to resume her life in New Hampshire, it is not going to be her real home.

Bookda Gheisar, an Iranian-American, ends her article, "Going Home" with a series of questions which, one feels, echo but remain unanswered, in Serageldin's text. Gheisar writes: "where is home? Is home where my loved ones are? Is home where I live? Is home where my mother was buried? Is home where I spent the first half of my life and where I know the traditions and values? Is home where I spent the second half of my life?" and the answer is undefined: "I continue to follow my heart to a place where I can fully belong" (Gheisar 195-196). It is this sense of full belonging that Mary Salome, an Arab-American, highlights in her simple but precise definition of the word home; she remarks: "In my mind, home is a place where I can be whole and bring all of myself" (Salome 88). But she too ends up by not resolving anything or wholly fitting anywhere after her trip to her different places of origin in the Middle East (Salome 92). Like Salome and many Arab-Americans, Gigi seems to have been unable to have this sense of wholeness in either of her two homes. As she is leaving Egypt, she concludes: "I can neither say that I am going home, nor coming from home" (232).

These feelings mean that the same dilemma and oscillation continue until the end and Gigi remains a displaced and out of place woman who is unable to find out which side of the hyphen she really belongs to. She ends up being in limbo, on the hyphen (233), more or less like Martha Ani Boudakian, an Armenian-American, who writes: "I live a hyphenated existence-two poles coexisting.... I function in two worlds, and I am in the margin of both of them" (Boudakian 34). Gigi's alternative is creating her own home within the boundaries of her own mind and dreams. Doing so brings to mind Maha El Said's statement: "Caught in the margins Arab-American poets try to build bridges and establish connections to overcome their ambivalence and ... alienation.... The feeling of not belonging in any specific society forces them to create a home in the margin where they can accommodate the two poles of identity" (El Said 109). In that margin the heroine of The Cairo House creates her own home that clings to the cherished bygone past, and deals with the future, with its neutral feelings and different context. The past, housed in this home, will be in the form of photographs and memories. During her last visit to Tamer, she asks him to give her something to remember him by, "a talisman" to remind her, while living in New Hampshire, that her world in Egypt is equally real (229). She finds nothing to take back except memories.

This mentally created home, though similar to that of many Arab-Americans, is shaped by the individuality of her own experience as a submissive woman, an exiled and alienated one, even when she was supposedly at home, and a first-generation-immigrant. This home is going to be as open-ended as Joanna Kadi's concept of maps: "I know it is possible and I know it is necessary to create maps that are alive, many layered multi dimensional, open ended, and braided" (Kadi, xiv). In that home, Gigi will realize, like Lisa Majaj, that "identities cannot be neatly divided;" and that "constructed and reconstructed.... [they] embody the demarcation of possibilities at particular junctures" (Majaj, "Boundaries" 82, 83). In Gigi's case, again like Majaj, one feels that she will remain "grounded in both history [her past] and alienation [her American context]" which makes her identity as an Arab-American "an on-going negotiation of difference" (Majaj, "Boundaries" 83, 84).

Since The Cairo House is a semi-autobiographical, in writing it, the author, like her protagonist, must have been trying to reconcile her present with her past and to capture the world of her childhood, to keep it from running away for ever, even if it was just on paper. Serageldin commented on her visits to Egypt in the '90s, saying: "Every time I was struck by the relentless pace of change sweeping every aspect of life; it seemed to me that soon the last traces of the world I had known would be gone with the wind" ("Live in Interesting Times" 8). Apparently, the author of The Cairo House, unlike her heroine, has come to terms with her American context and decided on her audience. This is clear from the composed language; Serageldin admits that when Arab-American writers choose to write in English, "they position themselves firmly on the side of their new reality in relation to their own identity and to the readership they address" ("Reflections and Refractions" 196-7). Moreover, in an interview with Najla Elhalwagy, she states that she meant her novel for the American audience and the immigrant families and she has actually succeeded in addressing both (Elhalwagy 19).

It is obvious that Serageldin has satisfied her American audience by speaking of many marginalized groups in Egypt such as the Nubian porters who come to work in Cairo and the zabaleen or the garbage collectors (214). In the meantime, her novel presents detailed descriptions of certain important events and occasions in the life of Egyptians. For example, she describes the Egyptian weddings (explaining the meaning of certain words such as zaghruta) and speaks of the marriage contract in detail (introducing certain related words such as the proxy and Mahr) (60). She also presents funerals and translates verses from the Koran recited on such occasions (94). She speaks of Ramadan fasting, Laylat-al-Qadr (151, 164), and the rituals of the sacrifice. Khan-Khalili, the souk, the dervish and their dance are all introduced in detail as well as certain kinds of Egyptian food and dessert like Om Ali, qammar-eddin or what she calls Egyptian cookies, kahk. Consequently, the book was acclaimed by many foreign reviewers for satisfying their need to learn about the exotic East represented by Egypt. Debbie Meyer, for example finds the novel interesting due to "the details of Egyptian customs;" "The most fascinating" scenes, she remarks, ate those "that tell of Egyptian traditions, like arranged marriages and divorces" (Meyer B5).

Egyptian and Arab-American families are equally addressed, for the issue of the hyphenated identity and the question of belonging are pressing matters to them. The Cairo House begins with the protagonist on a plane taking her home and ends with her on board another plane taking her back to another home. Between the two flights a long journey of self discovery, of searching for the true home takes place. In that journey, she recollected the people and experiences that shaped her own character and tried to resolve the question that lies between the future and the past, the question of "where do I belong?" (2). Unfortunately, as for other generations of Arab-Americans, the question cannot be definitely answered and her identity will never be easily defined; it will remain multi-layered and contradictory. One feels that, like many people in her situation, Gigi can say with Lisa Soheir Majaj: "I am opposite banks of a river/and I am the bridge" (Majaj, "Claims" 86). The bridge joining these two separate banks has to be hers and no one else's.


(27) The fact that hyphenated authors share certain themes and issues is obvious in an autobiographical essay by Elmaz Abinader who remarks that as an Arab-American she could, from a young age, identify with the writings of many hyphenated authors such as the Chinese-Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans "whose voices resounded about some of the same issues: belonging, identity, cultural loneliness, community, and exoticization" (Abinader, "Just Off Main Street," 5).

(28) See also Joana Kadi, "Five Steps to Creating Culture," 232.

(29) See also Maha El Said who quotes Sameer Ibrahim's words: "The emergence of 'Arab-American' identity is a recent phenomenon and one with which Arab immigrants and their offspring appear to be comfortable. This identity allows its members to emphasize the common features of their Arab history, culture and language, on the one side, and those common threads which bind them in their American experience on the other" (qtd. in Maha El Said 67).

(30) See also Lisa Suhair Majaj, "The Hyphenated Author: Emerging Genre of Arab-American Literature Poses Questions of Definition, Ethnicity and Art."

(31) Abinader surveys the history of Arab- American writers in America from the beginning of the twentieth century until recently. She discusses the early magazines and contingents founded and created by these writers such as the first Arabic language newspaper, Kawkab Amerika, founded in America in 1892, and Al Rabital al Qalamiyah or the New York Pen League, which was created in the 1920s and comprised of Arab writers such as Ameen Rihani, Gibran Khalil Gibran, Mikhail Naimy, and Elia Abu Madi. See Abinader, "Children of Al-Mahjar," 12.

(32) Most of the Arab- American literary texts tackle the themes of culture and identity; however, they have become more extensive and far reaching in the sense that they explore, according to Abinader, "new vistas-- related to years spent living in the United Sates--and domestic political and social issues that affect their everyday lives" (Abinader, Al-Mahjar, 13).

(33) This tension of identification is remarkable in many Arab- American memoirs; most notable is Edward Said's Out of Place where he comments on the two components of his name which suggest different worlds and identities. He remarks that sometimes he would rush past the first name and emphasize the second, whereas at other times, he would do the reverse. See Edward Said, Out of Place, 3. See also Martha Ani Boudakian, "Crossing Over to the Other Side" 34; and Ellen Mansoor Collier "Arab-Americans: Living with Pride and Prejudice," 167.

(34) Home coming is always a crucial moment in the life of any immigrant; see Mary Salome "Where I am," 87, and May Mansoor Munn, "Homecoming," 94-96.

(35) Since the author and her protagonist are both first-generation immigrants, The Cairo House differs from many Arab-American texts which always reveal family sagas and their sacrifice to America, as well as the generational conflict over cultural identification and assimilation.

(36) See for example, Lisa Majaj, "Boundaries," 65, Michelle Sharif, "Global Sisterhood," 151, and Bookda Gheisar, "Going Home," 192.

(37) See also "Reflections and Refractions" 8.


Abinader, Elmaz. "Children of Al-Mahjar: Arab American literature Spans a Century." U.S. Society and Values. 5.1 (Feb. 2000): 11-15.

--. "Just Off Main Street." Writers on America: 15 Reflections, ed. George Clack. Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State, n.d.: 1-4.

Bennett, Bruce, ed. A Sense of Exile: Essays in the Literature of the Asio-Pacific Region. Redlands, WA: The Centre for Studies in Australian Literature, 1988.

Boudakian, Martha. "Crossing Over to the Other Side." Kadi 32-38.

Collier. Ellen Mansoor. "Arab-Americans: Living with Pride and Prejudice." Kadi 165-7.

Elhalwagy, Najla. "Homeland Revisited, Review and Interview with Samia Serageldin." Community Times. 61 (Feb. 2001): 19.

El-Said, Maha. The Identity of Arab American Poets: An Analytical Study. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation. Cairo: Cairo University, 1997.

Gheisar, Bookda. "Going Home." Kadi 192-6.

Kadi, Joanna, ed. Food for our Grandmothers: Writings by Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists. Boston: South End Press, 1994.

--. "Five Steps to Creating Culture." Kadi 231-7. Majaj, Lisa Suhair. "Recognized Futures." Kadi 5-6.

--. "Boundaries: Arab/American." Kadi 65-86.

--. "The Hyphenated Author: Emerging Genre of 'Arab-American Literature' Poses Questions of Definition, Ethnicity and Art." Al Jadid, 5.26 (Winter 1999),

Meyer, Debbie. "'Cairo House' Paints Fascinating Portrait of Egyptian Family." Chapel Hill News (October 13, 2002): B5.

Mikhail, Mona. "A Review of The Cairo House by Samia Serageldin." The Middle East Journal 55.3 (Summer 2001): 514-516.

Munn, May Mansour. "Homecoming." Kadi 94-6.

Russell, Mona. "Gender, Identity, and the Egyptian evolution through Fact and Fiction." Hawwa, Journal of Women of the Middle East and the Islamic World 1.2 (Summer 2003), via e-mail.

Said, Edward. Out of Place. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.

Serageldin, Samia. The Cairo House. Syracuse UP, 2000.

--. "Reflections and Refractions: Arab American Women Writing and Written." Hawwa, Journal of Women of the Middle East and the Islamic World 1.2 (Summer 2003): 189-205.

--. "Live in Interesting Times." NC Writers Network Newsletter (September/October 2000): 8.

Sharif, Michelle. "Global Sisterhood: Where Do We Fit In?" Kadi 151-9.

Sharobeem, Heba. "Interview with Samia Serageldin." Cairo (December 18, 2002).

Zaki, Mona. "The Burden of Belonging" Review of the Cairo House by Samia Serageldin, Banipal Magazine of Modern Arab Literature (Spring/Summer 2001): 136-7.


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Author:Sharobeem, Heba M.
Publication:Studies in the Humanities
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Jun 1, 2003
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