Love Is An Ex-Country is the compelling new memoir from Arab American writer and academic Randa Jarrar. The book (much like its author) is provocative, powerful and utterly unabashed.
Presented as a travel memoir, Love is an Ex-Country begins with Jarrar heading on a cross-country road trip, emulating a similar trip taken by celebrated Egyptian dancer, Tahia Carioca, in the 1940s.
However, those looking for a more ‘traditional’ travelogue will be left disappointed. The road trip acts more as a jumping off point, a vehicle for Jarrar to explore events in her life, as well as her relationships with her body, her parents, and the United States. There’s a journey, but it’s not a straight trip from California to Connecticut. Detours, diversions and digressions abound as Jarrar grapples with competing identities and her relationships with others.
Love Is An Ex-Country explores heavy topics, and there are some confronting moments, especially when Jarrar writes about growing up in an abusive home, and abusive relationships. There’s a particular fleeting, yet harrowing, visit to Israel too. But Jarrar is ultimately a survivor, and all the fiercer for it. There is a vivaciousness and playfulness to her writing and she has a strong and relatable authorial voice. The heavy, confronting moments are balanced out by plenty of joy, wit and candour.
Jarrar is unflinchingly open as a memoirist. Little, if anything, is left off the table. This book is not for the prudish. She is the kind of writer you can trust to tell it like it is— a trait which has got her into trouble, as the chapter “Bushed” attests. Regardless of how you feel about that, forthright honesty is so necessary right now, and refreshing to find in a memoir of this kind.
Love Is An Ex-Country is a powerful book— funny, confronting and challenging but ultimately a celebration of those people who feel pushed-out, unheard, and stuck flitting between different identities. It’s the kind of book that will mean different things to different people, but ultimately one that should be read as widely as possible.