When We Were Arabs

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 25 Jun 2019

Member Reviews

Hayoun's book has a lot of rich and interesting stories, but they are a bit disconnected. Ultimately the book is neither memoir nor a current events tale, nor is it really a political statement. There's unique detail, but as a whole the story needed polishing - although it's not my particular Jewish culture, I was still interested in seeing a different perspective. But I am less certain that one could easily follow along without any Jewish background - an unfortunate side-effect of both the reality of being Jewish and Arab, and of the editing this book needed to be more easily readable. There's a lot of meat here, but it's also a lot to chew on, if you get what I mean. To be generous - the book is as complicated and scattered as Hayoun's life is.
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DNF at 16%

Unfortunately I just couldn't read more than maybe 60 to 70 pages of this book. I had a hard time following the narrative, it's too scattered and at times even feels unorganized. I'm very sorry, because I'm also positive that the author's family story would make an interesting read.
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A memoir with a bite, in which Massoud Hayoun, a member of the Arab diaspora and a Jew, chronicles his family history in a tale that spans continents and epochs, and weaves that history with politics. He uses his grandparents’ stories to explore the history of a once thriving Arab Jewish community. It’s very much a celebration of a rich and diverse heritage but it’s also a diatribe against colonialism and Zionism, of which he is a fierce critic. He documents the suppression of native culture by both the British and French and he is particularly angry when it comes to Israel and Zionism. The book is a well-researched and intelligent history of the complex situation in the Middle East, but not particularly well-written. It jumps about too much in time and place, and the lack of structure makes the narrative difficult to follow at times. Hayoun is an angry man, with justification, but a polemic doesn’t always make for good reading. However, I did enjoy the book overall, and particularly appreciated being made more aware that being Arab doesn’t automatically mean being Muslim, and that there are many Jewish Arabs as well.
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This is not a story of a family.  This is a history book.  If I wanted to read the history of Jews born in Egypt, I would have chosen a history book.  This is not written by someone who knows how to tell a personalized story and also make it interesting to read
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I found the tone of this book to be disturbing. Rather than educating the public about Judaism, the author seems to be angry that a relatively population of Arab Jews is not more recognized.  Being Jewish myself, I was very aware of the diversity within the Jewish community. So I realize the book wasn't written other Jews, then who is it written for? Someone apparently the author is antagonist towards which is not a good marketing strategy.
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I got a email from the author to read the book and wrote him back apologizing for taking so long in reading his book. Well that was yesterday and so I started reading and reading and halfway through the book so sorry,just couldn't read anymore! I really wasn't sure what the holiness about cause I didn't re-read what the story was about again yesterday when I started. I am so sorry but I got so confused and tried to concentrate on what I was reading and I would understand a sentence or so then didn't understand and so on. All I got was about his grandparents,the different religion and that's about it. Just couldn't finish and I really did try. Not to hurt anyone's feelings.😪. This if the book is rewritten it may make more sense I kept waiting on a story about his grandparents,him growing up all I seem to get us a bunch of facts thrown at me . I consider myself a pretty well educated person but even if this was taught in a school all the difference in religion they would fail the class!!😒
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A memoir so well written so enlightening  a look at the world of the authors grandparents a blend of world being an Arab and a Jew,A look inside a time in history of people I knew nothing about their lives their world and I enjoyed learning about them.#netgalley #newpressbooks.
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As interesting as the topic was, I really did not enjoy reading this book. I think it could have benefited from much more editing and structure. It jumped back and forth between Tunisia and Egypt and between his family's stories and more general history. Some details were repeated unnecessarily at different points in the book. I enjoyed the stories of the author's family much more than the general historical information, which was a slog to get through. While I'm happy to have learned about Jewish Arab identity and the history of the region, I think the author could have done a better job of integrating the information with his telling of his own family history. Thank you to NetGalley and The New Press for providing me with an early review copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.
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Massoud Hayoun's debut is a memoir dealing with his shifting identity as an Arab and a Jew in the current political and social climate surrounding those labels.  It's an important topic that is sure to appeal to many who share his background.  I was excited to read this book and, despite my criticisms below, I enjoyed learning more about Jewry in the Middle East and North Africa.

However, I received an advance digital copy through Netgalley, and this book is currently very difficult to read.  The sections don't flow, which makes for a laborious read as I tried to piece events and points together to understand the ultimate message Hayoun was trying to share.  I hope that the finished product will remedy these defects.

Thank you to Netgalley, Massoud Hayoun, and The New Press for allowing me to access this advance copy.  As always, all opinions are my own.
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Young author Massoud Hayoun has an interesting background, he's traveled the world, grown up hearing stories from family members from many corners of the earth, and as a freelance journalist he presumably has researching skills. I like his usage of film and fashion to describe Arab-Jewry throughout place and time, and I learned the meanings of many Arabic and Jewish words I've heard before but without context: Sephardi is Hebrew for Spanish, Mizrahi is Hebrew term for Eastern, the Berbers are the Amazigh meaning Free People, the Jewish Bible is called Tanakh,  HamdelA means Thank God, qaid is an official or chieftan, Scots were known as Jock and the Welsh as Taffy, Mabrouk means May it be blessed. The sad theme of this book seems to be that every race has a biological proclivity toward racism and megalomania. 

What this collection of vast and impressive facts and first-hand experiences is in need of, is editing. I felt this opened as a barrage of definitions and historical data, followed by a section that would make several great essays with some editing, and then at the end there were questions posed that answered my wondering, "what is this book about/trying to accomplish?" that would have been more useful presented in the beginning, or even used throughout as a unifying premise. I basically felt like this book had been written without an outline.
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This was a near-unreadable mess of polemic, history, family history, and memoir. It's poorly organized and written, jumps around in a scattered and unedited way, and ultimately is a chore to get through. I think the author has a story to tell and a point--or several--to make, but those aren't served well in the current state this book is in.
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I usually love these kind of memoirs. As a Northern American who had been here for ages, I am drawn to others who have a story to tell. My mother's side of the family came here in the mid 1600's from Belgium. 1638. Can you imagine? Yet, after that nothing, until during the civil war and we bought a baby grand piano, and had it sent to Colorado. Before, during and after? Nothing. That is what we Americans miss. History. We know we have it, but p.b.s. isn't walking into our life, just laying it out! That is probably why I didn't connect with Mr. Hayoun's story. I wanted more. Hell, I needed to feel more. To be honest, being Jewish and Arabian must be one heck of a thing. For me alone? I don't understand enough about being Jewish or Arabian. I just dont. Sadly, this  book didn't resolve things for me. I've always thought that both Jews and Arabs had a mystique. But sadly the truth is not mysterious.  An Arabian Jew?.Just thinking about all the ways that people will hate on that makes my head spin! This should have been a  book to make people think. Sadly, even if this had hit the mark, most folk would ignore it. That right there is my issue. I didn't feel much for these folk. And knowing that I should have but didn't makes a.huge difference. It's a grand idea for a book, but I didn't feel.
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I found this book too heavy for my taste. I generally love memoirs but I felt this called for a reader with a deeper background than my own. There were too few experiential tales, family anecdotes, or charming memories.
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