Once in a Promised Land
By Laila Halaby
(Beacon Press, Paperback, 9780807083918, 352pp.)
Publication Date: January 2008
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They say there was or there wasn't in olden times a story as old as life, as young as this moment, a story that is yours and is mine.
Once in a Promised Land is the story of Jassim and Salwa, who left the deserts of their native Jordan for those of Arizona, each chasing mirages of opportunity and freedom. Although the couple live far from Ground Zero, they cannot escape the dust cloud of paranoia settling over the nation.
A hydrologist, Jassim believes passionately in his mission to make water accessible to all people, but his work is threatened by an FBI witch hunt for domestic terrorists. A Palestinian now twice displaced, Salwa embraces the American dream. She grapples to put down roots in an unwelcoming climate, becoming pregnant against her husband's wishes.
When Jassim kills a teenage boy in a terrible accident and Salwa becomes hopelessly entangled with a shadowy young American, their tenuous lives in exile and their fragile marriage begin to unravel. Once in a Promised Land is a dramatic and achingly honest look at what it means to straddle cultures, to be viewed with suspicion, and to struggle to find safe haven.
Laila Halaby was born in Beirut, Lebanon, to a Jordanian father and an American mother. She speaks four languages, won a Fulbright scholarship to study folklore in Jordan, and holds a master's degree in Arabic literature. Her first novel, West of the Jordan, won the prestigious PEN Beyond Margins Award. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her family. Visit www.lailahalaby.net for more information on Laila Halaby and her work.
- Salwa and Jassim find themselves surrounded by hostility after the attacks on the World Trade Center. Did you notice a change in attitude towards Arabs in the U.S. after 9/11? Are there other groups in your community that are discriminated against because of their ethnicity or religion? Have you ever been subject to discrimination?