Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Debut Fiction - AMANDA ADAMS

Malu Halasa, The Un­named Press (NOVEM­BER), Soft­cover $15.99 (256pp), 978-1-944700-34-8 Halasa’s prose is rev­e­la­tory. Wholly au­then­tic and pro­foundly in­sight­ful, Mother of all Pigs, by Malu Halasa, is a cap­ti­vat­ing look at the lives of a Mid­dle East­ern fam­ily.

A butcher by trade, Hus­sein Sabas spe­cial­izes in of­fer­ing pig-based prod­ucts along­side stan­dard ha­lal choices. This de­ci­sion both keeps his busi­ness afloat and os­tra­cizes him from more con­ser­va­tive neigh­bors in his small, ru­ral Jor­da­nian town. Though times in the neigh­bor­hood are tough—from war­ring states to an ever-crum­bling so­cial struc­ture—hus­sein still man­ages to be the odd man out, thanks to his gen­eral lack of re­li­gious com­pli­ance.

Hus­sein re­sides in a home full of women, in­clud­ing his el­derly, an­i­mated mother, Fadhma, his cun­ningly dy­namic wife, Laila, his seem­ingly-way­ward half-sis­ter, Samira, and a new ad­di­tion, Muna, a niece vis­it­ing from Amer­ica. Their fam­ily dy­namic brims with ten­sion. Each woman is fully aware of the se­crets and hard­ship that plague their fam­ily. When an un­ex­pected vis­i­tor from Hus­sein’s past sur­faces, the fam­ily must make a crit­i­cal de­ci­sion on his be­half.

Halasa’s prose is rev­e­la­tory. In ad­di­tion to chron­i­cling the minu­tiae of ev­ery­day life in the Mid­dle East, pre­cise and vivid lan­guage evokes a keen sense of at­mos­phere and set­ting. Al­ter­nat­ing points of view also pro­vide a holis­tic look at a fam­ily that both adores and de­spises one an­other.

Char­ac­ters are be­liev­ably hu­man and easy to root for. The new ad­di­tion of Muna, a de­cid­edly Amer­i­can young woman, prompts some of the house­hold to con­sider new, freer ways of think­ing, which in turn leads to more in­ter­nal strife among the group. By the time that a delin­quent sol­dier from Hus­sein’s mil­i­tary past ap­pears, they are in dis­ar­ray, forced to work through their gen­er­a­tional and cul­tural is­sues in or­der to de­cide his fate.

Mo­ments of hu­mor and wit of­fer much­needed breaks from the melan­choly of the Sabas’s ev­ery­day lives. De­spite liv­ing in a war-rav­aged coun­try, de­void of many of the nec­es­sary trap­pings of ev­ery­day life, each mem­ber of the fam­ily still keeps some spark of fun ban­ter, al­low­ing for a cathar­sis of sorts.

En­gross­ing in both its ex­pertly crafted nar­ra­tive and ex­pres­sive im­agery, Mother of all Pigs man­ages to make the story of one fam­ily univer­sal.

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