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Dancing Arabs

  • ISBN13: 9780802141262
  • Condition: NEW
  • Notes: Brand New from Publisher. No Remainder Mark.

Product Description
The debut novel by twenty-eight-year-old Arab-Israeli Sayed Kashua has been praised around the world for its honesty, irony, humor, and its uniquely human portrayal of a young man who moves between two societies, becoming a stranger to both. Kashua’s nameless antihero has big shoes to fill, having grown up with the myth of a grandfather who died fighting the Zionists in 1948, and with a father who was jailed for blowing up a school cafeteria in the name of freedom. When he is granted a scholarship to an elite Jewish boarding school, his family rejoices, dreaming that he will grow up to be the first Arab to build an atom bomb. But to their dismay, he turns out to be a coward devoid of any national pride; his only ambition is to fit in with his Jewish peers who reject him. He changes his clothes, his accent, his eating habits, and becomes an expert at faking identities, sliding between different cultures, schools and languages, and eventually a Jewish lover and an Arab wife. With refreshing candor and self-deprecating wit, Dancing Arabs brilliantly maps one man’s struggle to disentangle his personal and national identities, only to tragically and inevitably forfeit both.

Dancing Arabs


  1. Not knowing much about the Arab war, I felt a bit lost in between the spotty chapters, which could easily be read as diary entries of an Arab voice, a boy coming of age at a time of uncertainty. The structure of the book adds to the personality, development and characterization of storyteller… brief, honest, private, and vulnerable. Some of the words were left in the original language, giving the story a taste of authenticy, but also leaving me, the reader, hanging, knowing that i am missing the entire meaning of the word, sentence, feeling. The person we come to know is one who lives in constant confusion, through distorted memories, and also complacency. He seems to live life on the other side of a window, never fully grasping onto opportunities and allowing quality to slip away. He seems to watch his life move along each day without taking ownership of his life. The book comes to an end without satisfying the reader w/ any glimpse of hope; instead, the storyteller never overcomes his fears and does nothing proactively to change himself for the better. Though I personally felt unfulfilled and somewhat disappointed in the main dude, I was reminded that I know people just like him in my culture, my society, my community. His challenges and fears are just as prevalent as in my life… but he does not take action. I guess in the end, he is just as much human as I am.
    Rating: 3 / 5

  2. In the end his father said after he had returned from Egypt, that it would be the best when an Israeli-Arab would become a seventh class citizen in a Zionistic state. That would be better than being a first class citizen in an Arab state. “My father hates the Arabs, he says, it is better to be a slave of an enemy than to be slave of a leader from the own people”.

    And this of a father, who regarded himself a life long as a militant Palestinian Arab who had no love lost between him and the Jews! Fiction? If you read the book from beginning to the end, you will not believe this. It seems to be autobiographic and authentic. Many details from the daily life of an Arab in Israel are very precise. If they were wrong they would call for contradiction.

    The author never takes sides, neither for the one nor for the other side. It is possible to find a lot of ironic and self-ironic, besides there is a lot of ugly and banal, more apparent is the senseless and contradictory in the hatred and behaviour of the Arabs. Perhaps the author did have the intention to set a big question mark behind it?

    The Palestinians live on hope and many expectations which all seem to be irrational. The end of the Jews must be very near. The prophet returns, Jerusalem will fall tomorrow, the Arabs of all countries unify… at first place is the extermination or forced displacement of the Jews. And if this will not succeed, at least the conditions in the country should change. Then Jews have to be the citizens of second class, finally only Arabs are orthodox!

    But, in the Arab states the Arabs have no better life than in Israel. Economically rather the opposite. The Jews despising “father” is building his fourth house and hopes that his son will one day construct the first Arabian atomic bomb!

    The story-teller does not know himself really where he is standing. He is pragmatic, he likes when Jews regard him as a Jew. This means advantages. He dresses like a Jew, speaks like a Jew which even makes him proud! The Jews have clean water, they have teachers who do not beat and they have work. And of course he has a Jewish lover! The Arab wife hates him. Facing all the striking homemade problems on the side of the Muslims he is not able to take their party. Education has not inherited defect on him, the propaganda had not blinded him rather deterred!

    If the author wanted to write an impartial book, he made it, even if he is nowhere political. Maybe that exactly is the special, to make something clear without uttering?

    Many anecdotes seem to be strung together without rhyme or reason, but altogether they form a picture. The hair must stand on end about the naivete, nonage, blockheadedness and aggressive potency of the dancing Arabs.

    The book is intelligible written and an easy read. For some it is perhaps a better introduction in the life of the “zone” than a journalists discourse. But one thing is for sure, Muslims will not like it. What may not be true, cannot be true!

    Rating: 3 / 5

  3. This is a well-written, sometimes entertaining, and finally dispiriting book about identity loss. While the international news media may characterize Palestinians as either oppressed or villainous, depending on the political agendas of others, Kashua’s portrayal of this novel’s Palestinian-Israeli protagonist forgoes the usual stereotypes. His central character is both sympathetic and pathetic by turns.

    Carrying a blue identity card, which makes him an Israeli citizen, the novel’s narrator tells of his childhood in a village, Tira, which lies north of Tel Aviv, where he learns early a kind of self-contempt that sets him on a path of disillusionment with nearly everything. Given the opportunity to get an education at a Jewish boarding school, which would then open doors into a comfortable professional life, he blames himself for losing the courage to follow that path – though the seeds of his failure had already been planted long ago in his rejection of his ethnicity and his desire to pass for Jewish. Marrying a Muslim girl he meets in Jerusalem, he finds his miseries compounded. Meanwhile, hostilities and tensions mount around him, as wars and rebellion break out again – the Lebanese War, the Gulf War, and the Intafada.

    There is dignity left only in clinging to the land, as his aging grandmother has done from the beginning of the novel, refusing to relinquish the patch of it left to her by her dead husband. Given the futility of forging an identity for himself, the narrator can still claim this one consistency in his life, that he has remained devoted to this old woman and is still tenderly caring for her in the closing scene. It permits what has been a comic-gloomy vision to end on a note that is not without a slender thread of hope.
    Rating: 5 / 5

  4. I really enjoyed this quick read. Engrossing honest depiction of life for Arabs in Israel- not what you would expect.
    Rating: 4 / 5

  5. There is something poignant and painful about Sayed Kashua’s excellent book, “Dancing Arabs.” This short novel/fictional autobiography of a young Palestinian Israeli, who has lived in both of the two strongly competing cultures of Israel–Arab and Jewish–pulls no punches when it comes to presenting the day-to-day dilemmas faced by the flawed anti-hero of the story. There is no personal reconciliation and comfort for him, and we see him for the most part as a grossly self-centered and self-absorbed social misfit. Author Kashua makes it clear how the character’s daily tightrope act has shaped his character and behavior, but understanding those factors makes it only a shade easier to be at all sympathetic to his situation.

    Growing up as a Palestinian child in a household embittered by the Palestinian and Arab defeats in 1948 and subsequent conflicts with the Israelis, where ancestral lands and homes were lost and forceable relocation was the norm, the novel’s unnamed main character is nonetheless pushed by his parents toward the educational opportunities that only the Israeli state can provide. By dint of his intelligence and with some luck, he is sent to an Israeli boarding school where he quickly learns that he belongs to a lower rung of Israeli society but is still greatly privileged compared to others in the Arab community that he comes from. He gradually becomes more Israeli in his behavior and outlook and increasingly shuns contact with his family and other Arabs although he is fully aware that he is irrevocably tied to that community and that he will never be fully accepted socially by Jewish Israelis.

    This short story takes him through his student years when he enjoyed a limited kind of special status and a comfortable alienation from his roots and then into a difficult return to the Arab community through an early marriage to a Palestinian woman after rejection by the family of his Jewish girlfriend’s family.

    “Dancing Arabs” is an insightful look into the complexities of living in a society divided by sectarianism and historic resentments. It is not without some hope as it takes its anti-hero to a certain level of maturity through fatherhood and coming to terms with the responsibilities of being a husband. But this very much a “warts and all” story that is purposely left without a definitive ending.

    Good writing and well-worth the reading time.

    Rating: 4 / 5


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