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Cover for A Curious Land

A Curious Land

Stories from Home (Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction)

Susan Muaddi Darraj


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Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (10/25/2015)


Susan Muaddi Darraj's short story collection about the inhabitants of a Palestinian West Bank village, Tel al-Hilou, spans generations and continents to explore ideas of memory, belonging, connection, and, ultimately, the deepest and richest meaning of home. A Curious Land gives voice to the experiences of Palestinians in the last century.

An excerpt from A Curious Land:

When Rabab lowered the magad and clapped-clapped to the well in her mother's too-big slippers, the stone jar digging into her shoulder, she didn't, at first, see the body. The morning sun glazed everything around her—the cement homes, the iron rails along one wall, the bars on the windows, the stones around the well—and made her squint her itchy eyes.

She was hungry. That was all.

They'd arrived here only last night, stopping as soon as Awwad and the men were sure the army had moved south. It must have been the third time in just a few weeks—collapse the tents, load the mules, disappear into the sands. She hoped this war would end soon, and she didn't really care who won, as long as it ended because they hadn't eaten well in two years. In the past few months, her mother had sold all her gold, except for her bracelet made of liras. It was the only thing left, and she was holding onto it, and Rabab realized, so were they all; she imagined that, the day it was sold, when her mother's wrist was bare, would signal that they were at the end.

Praise For A Curious Land: Stories from Home (Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction)

"Darraj writes traditional, tragic love stories set among Orthodox Palestinians during periods of historical unrest. A superb collection and a perfect selection for public libraries."—Booklist

"Praise for The Inheritance of Exile: Susan Muaddi Darraj writes with care and intelligence, and her compassion for her flawed and complex characters reminds us of our own humanity."—Laila Lalami, author of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits

"These linked stories about the people of the village of Tel al-Hilou, and their descendants in today's United States of America, span over a century. The author's empathy for the large cast of embattled characters is miraculous. In particular, we get to know the quietly heroic Palestinian women in these stories as intimately as we know the people closest to us. Astonishingly, this collection is, above all, about the transformative powers of love."—Jaime Manrique, author of Our Lives Are the Rivers

"A gorgeous book encompassing a century's worth of Palestinian and Palestinian-American stories. Chatty, generous, and often hilarious, this book is full of characters you won't want to leave behind. Muaddi Darraj has crafted a highly memorable collection."—Randa Jarrar, author of A Map of Home: A Novel

"I've always thought that Susan Muaddi Darraj's stories were remarkable in the way they unfolded a life, or parts of life, with wisdom and subtlety. The stories in A Curious Land do that, but they take the experience further—while still intimate, their breadth and vision is epic. Intertwining joys and sorrows that span generations, they dissolve the boundaries that can separate people, and instead, brings them, and us, closer, so much so—and this is what makes these stories so stunning—that as far-removed or different as our own lives may be (or we think that they may be) from the lives of these characters, we end up seeing ourselves, our families, the people who make us who we are, on every single page."—Hayan Charara, author of The Sadness of Others

"The poignant sense of time and place so beautifully captured in A Curious Land makes it impossible for readers to forget these carefully interlinked stories, which vividly depict the lives of the inhabitants of Tel al-Hilou, a Palestinian village in the West Bank. Susan Muaddi Darraj's well-crafted characters and her brilliant attention to the details of their individual and collective experiences of love, occupation, immigration, and loss over the span of several decades creates an immensely powerful, intimate, and complex portrait of Palestinian lives, both at home and in the diaspora."—Carol Fadda-Conrey, Associate Professor of English, Syracuse University

"Utterly unique, A Curious Land, is a colorful literary mosaic that stretches across time and place, tracing the lives of four generations of unforgettable characters from Palestine to America. Refreshingly concrete, this sprawling novel immerses the reader into the sights, scents and sounds of a people torn by war and tradition, and always, love. Muaddi-Darraj beckons us to follow them, and we do. For this reader, there was no other alternative."—Lalita Noronha, author of Where Monsoons Cry and Her Skin Phyllo-Thin

"A Curious Land humanizes a political situation, offering the reader a way to understand the steady settlement activity of the Israeli occupation through the eyes and ears of the inhabitants of the villagers. The human toll of occupation, the struggle of everyday people who emigrate for safety and security, and the families they leave behind – all are vividly brought to life in this collection."—Necessary Fiction

"If you want to spend time with memorable characters who populate magnetic stories, if you want to an elegant book that enables you to understand something new in subsequent readings, this is the book you want."—JMWW Blog

"Darraj's touch is light. She portrays her characters with dignity and complexity. Each generation of Tel al-Hilou's inhabitants reveals the growing Israeli-Palestine conflict. Decade by decade, Darraj shows how conflict spreads, how it figures into and overshadows the daily lives of her characters. . . . In the midst of the war and the worry, Darraj plants the seeds of love—romantic love, familial love, and cultural love. . . . Darraj's writing is neither overly moralistic nor didactic. There is a no judgment or anger in the stories. She shows us one side of a decades-long conflict, with characters struggling for the peace and happiness we all want for ourselves."—Amina Gautier, The Rumpus

"A Curious Land places Muaddi Darraj with other hybrid-American authors of African, Latin American, Jewish and other heritages who ensure that our understandings of notions of identity and home remain diverse and complex."—Electronic Intifada

"In reading A Curious Land, it occurred to me that Susan Muaddi Darraj is an archivist—in an important sense, if not the traditional one. In telling the stories of Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans, her stories offer an archive of language, of customs; they record those relations between people that, for lack of a better word, we call 'civilization.'"—Mass Review

"In A Curious Land both women and men quietly violate both gender and social-group norms, and the good guys are blended and mixed up with the bad guys. . . . Honor for Darraj is about persistence in trying to find a decent, ordinary life."—Women's Review of Books

University of Massachusetts Press, 9781625342652, 288pp.

Publication Date: November 29, 2016

About the Author

Susan Muaddi Darraj's stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in New York Stories, Orchid Literary Review, Banipal, Mizna, al-Jadid, and several anthologies. Her previous short story collection, The Inheritance of Exile, was honored by the U.S. State Department's Arabic Book Program. She is a recipient of an Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council. A Philadelphia native, she currently lives in Baltimore.