Fencing With the King
by Diana Abu-Jaber
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 15 Mar 2022 | Archive Date 28 Feb 2022
A mesmerizing breakthrough novel of family myths and inheritances by the award-winning author of Crescent.
Amani is hooked on a mystery—a poem on airmail paper that slips out of one of her father’s books. It seems to have been written by her grandmother, a refugee who arrived in Jordan during the First World War. Soon the perfect occasion to investigate arises: her Uncle Hafez, an advisor to the King of Jordan, invites her father to celebrate the king’s sixtieth birthday—and to fence with the king, as in their youth. Her father has avoided returning to his homeland for decades, but Amani persuades him to come with her. Uncle Hafez will make their time in Jordan complicated—and dangerous—after Amani discovers a missing relative and is launched into a journey of loss, history, and, eventually, a fight for her own life.
Fencing with the King masterfully draws on King Lear and Arthurian fable to explore the power of inheritance, the trauma of displacement, and whether we can release the past to build a future.
About the Author: Diana Abu-Jaber is the award-winning author of seven books of fiction and nonfiction, including Crescent and The Language of Baklava.
A Note From the Publisher
LibraryReads votes due by 2/1/22.
"Diana Abu Jaber outdoes herself with this brilliantly paced and utterly absorbing novel. From start to finish, her dynamic prose and seemingly effortless storytelling create an original narrative of love, intrigue, and family/global dynamics. Fencing with the King is a flavorful page-turner that will both nourish and satiate. You are in for a treat." - Laila Halaby, author of Once in a Promised Land
"Fencing With the King is a delicate arabesque of intertwining family relationships. Moving through the bouganvillia-splashed villas of upper-class Jordan, a poet raised in America struggles to decode her father’s world of allusion, indirection and heartbreaking secrets. The novel probes the cost of exile and voluntary expatriation, asking: When is inheritance a blessing, and when is it merely a burden?" - Geraldine Brooks, author of The Secret Chord
"Fencing With the King, about a young American woman's encounter with her Jordanian family and their complex legacy, is a rare pleasure. Abu-Jaber's rich characters live and breathe around you, and her nuance and wit bring the largest themes to irresistible, present life." - Claire Massud, author of A Burning Girl
"The best novel I’ve read all year: shimmering prose, compelling emotion, and utterly impossible to put down. Rarely has the terroir of ancestry been so masterfully evoked. Abu-Jaber’s best yet." - Nicole Mones, author of The Last Chinese Chef
"I read Diana Abu-Jaber's Fencing With the King in one sitting -- I couldn’t stop. Ambitious, vivid, compelling, and full of life, this rich family story tells so many truths and uses family myths and fables to explore complex history, intergenerational trauma, and the wounds of exile and displacement. An absolute must read." - Etaf Rum, author of A Woman is No Man
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 25 members
I really enjoyed this book about the complexities of life in Jordan, homecoming, and family. the characters are beautifully drawn and imbued with reality, and the gentle teasing out of family history is elegant but believable. Through the use of a large cast, the author makes it possible to share information about things like gender, parenting, work, and behavior in ways that aren't condescending to readers. I'd love to read this with a group of really smart people, or teach it to a class. (Fencers considering reading this: Even most of the fencing terminology is right!)
Fencing with the King is a compelling and dynamic story with many threads of plot. The inter-generational conflict and family struggles bring to mind the "thicket of family." In several ways, the story is that of Amani, a young woman who is Jordanian American who lives in New York and is traveling with her family to Jordan to attend a celebration for her uncle, the king. Her father, Gabe, will be fencing with the king in order to demonstrate the skills of both men in the fencing ring although of course the king, as planned, is ultimately the victor.
The story is enriched with family characters, some of whom are dishonest and unlikable and others who are sweet and need support. The one who stands out is an ascetic who appears to have been isolated in a cave most of his life in the mountains because he struggles with disabilities and communication. A remarkable scene in the book has Amani dangerously looking for him in the desert in a sand storm. Ultimately she finds him and their friendship is cemented by their fondness for and recognition of each other.
This lovely book has everything: mystery, familial relationships and schisms, cultural depth, personal struggles, and ancestry. I haven't read other books by Abu-Jabar, but I most certainly will. The book was difficult to put down, and it skillfully wove many aspects of family strife and affection to a deeply satisfying ending.
This deliberately paced, sensuously written novel is the story of a lost woman regaining her self. It's the story of a poet finding her voice. And it's the story of a "true Jordanian" family, in the sense that this family represents many facets of Jordan, those on display as well as those buried in the past. The book starts slowly, unfolding to reveal a twist worth the wait. Jordan, circa 1995, is depicted with such love. We feel that love through Abu-Jaber's ability to immerse us in its culture and landscapes. I recommend this novel to anyone who likes their historical fiction infused with poetry, family dynamics, political machinations, romance, and the grace, intrigue, and sport of fencing.
[Thanks to W. W. Norton & Company and NetGalley for an opportunity to read an advanced reader copy of this book.]
This is a marvelous book. It kept me enthralled from beginning to end. It is a majestic story of a girl named Amani, a poet, who travels to Jordan in search of an answer to a mysterious mail from her late grandmother, Natalia. While In Jordan she meets some of her bemused relatives, explores the wonders of Jordan, and in turn she learns of the wonders, legends, and secrets of her family. This is a story of family myths, refugees, belonging, heritage, and ultimately the quest for love in all its forms. I give this book a rating of 5. Diana Abu-Jaber has always been a favorite author of mine, and this book kept me intrigued just like her other books.
Special thanks to W.W Norton Company and NetGalley for this advanced reader copy.