Him, Me, Muhammad Ali, Randa Jarrar
One of Electric Literature’s 25 Best Short Story Collections of 2016
People magazine gave Jarrar’s novel four stars, calling it an extraordinary debut.
Winner of the 2017 Story Prize Spotlight Award
Jarrar's stories grapple with love, loss, displacement, and survival in a collection that moves seamlessly between realism and fable, history and the present. With humor, irony, and boundless imagination, Jarrar brings to life a memorable cast of characters, many of them "accidental transients"—a term for migratory birds who have gone astray—seeking their circuitous routes back home.
Randa Jarrar is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, essayist, and translator. She grew up in Kuwait and Egypt, and moved to the U.S. after the first Gulf War. Her novel A Map of Home, was published in six languages and won a Hopwood Award, an Arab-American Book Award, and was named one of the best novels of 2008 by the Barnes & Noble Review. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Utne Reader, Salon.com, Guernica, The Rumpus, The Oxford American, Ploughshares, Five Chapters, and other venues. She’s received fellowships and residencies from the Lannan Foundation at Marfa, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, Hedgebrook, Caravansarai, and Eastern Frontier. In 2010, the Hay Festival and Beirut UNESCO’s world capital of the book named Jarrar one of the most gifted writers of Arab origin under the age of 40.
PRAISE FOR HIM, ME, MUHAMMAD ALI:
"Sharp and irreverent.... When Jarrar’s sense of humor tangles with her character’s feelings of estrangement, the results are often charming and funny."
—Los Angeles Times
“[A] brave, bright, tell-it-like-it-is collection. . . . Impressively varied in style and content, Jarrar’s collection is recommended for a wide range of readers.”
“Jarrar follows up her novel, A Map of Home, with a collection of stories depicting the lives of Arab women, ranging from hypnotic fables to gritty realism. . . . Often witty and cutting, these stories transport readers and introduce them to a memorable group of women.”
“A subtle interrogation of class spanning multiple generations and an exploration of desire enlivened by a dash of magical realism.”
"Jarrar’s characters are memorable, with experiences and observations that oscillate between deeply moving and riotously funny—often on the same page—and she expertly incorporates occasional moments of magical realism in this truly excellent short-story collection.”
—New York Magazine
"These stories showcase the strength and talent of a writer of immeasurable gift and grace, who confronts the poignant and often brutal realities her characters face with sass and verve.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books
“Jarrar. . . . manages to imbue her stories and characters with unabashed satire and biting language, melded with an expansive, imaginative geography. . . . In this new, beautifully crafted collection she moves seamlessly from Istanbul to Sydney to Seattle, with stories featuring colourful characters from a variety of Arab backgrounds. . . . This endearing book, and its vulnerable characters, indelibly leaves the reader with an intimate sense of love and loss.”
"Jarrar’s style — sensitive, peculiar, and closely observed — [has] roots in Russian literature, but its rhythm sounds modern and entirely her own. Her best descriptions are about relationships and the details we observe in the people we kind of hate but mostly love. . . . Weird, hilarious, melodramatic, gorgeous, and sincerely resonant."
"With compelling themes of displacement and reinvention, these stories push boundaries—probing race, class, sexual identity, and family; the role of women in Arab and American culture; and much more. In this collection, mythology meets reality, and Jarrar’s palette spans the world. . . . The thirteen stories in this collection blend humor with rage, wit with pathos. Jarrar presents an astonishing variety, each story as inventive as it is insightful. It’s a book for this oppressive electoral season, where presidential politics are ugly and destructive, and demagoguery is endeavoring to trample a core American truth: Our country’s strength derives from open borders. Jarrar is here with a correction."
"Jarrar’s work seeks to expand literary representation of Arab people, and her stories take place in cities and countries all over the world. . . . Bold, wry stories depicting the lives of (mostly) Arab men and women, from Cairo to New York to Palestine to Sydney to Istanbul."
"[An] arresting collection of stories. . . . Jarrar's characters are Muslims, mainly women, usually not living their lives in lockstep with the Quran, but feeling grounded in their religion and culture and home nonetheless. . . . In the reductive American political mind, the Middle East is often only the source of oil and terrorism. Neither appears in this collection. . . . It seems almost gauche to even mention oil and terrorism--such is the verve of Jarrar's edifying stories, writing a world which many more not only should be reading, but need to read."
"Whether Jarrar’s character is a woman suffering under the small patriarchal tyrannies of family or a half-human, half-ibex creature (also suffering under the small patriarchal tyrannies of family), they always feel fully human and real, pained and searching….An exciting collection.”
—Washington Independent Review of Books
"This collection of stories explores an array of Muslim voices spanning several cities and continents, all focusing on seeking freedom and love amid displacement and loss. . . . These voices and experiences need to be heard now more than ever."
“Timeless. . . Jarrar deftly captures the conflicted emotions that can arise when trying to navigate your own identity and the expectations of loved ones. . . With subtle and precise storytelling, Jarrar has an almost tactile command of the settings of these narratives, and the result is a powerful evocation of the complex dynamics at work in contemporary life.”
"Funny and darkly imaginative. . . The stories are confessional and riveting by means of the deeply intimate and vulnerable spaces Jarrar’s characters allow us to access . . . Jarrar’s fiction has exciting range, and she investigates narrative as well as social taboo. Even when her often-fantastical stories veer towards fable, she subverts any expectation of threadbare fairy tale, always finding affecting depths . . . Like the tightrope walker in the opening story, Jarrar pulls off incredible feats again and again.”
—The Portland Mercury
"Jarrar’s stories are full of surprises—it’s hard to name another tale that’s narrated by a bisexual half Transjordanian ibex living in a tiny town in Texas. But what holds the collection together is its earnest tenderness. Jarrar doesn’t pull punches, as readers of her political commentary well know. But she lavishes affectionate attention on her characters. . . Jarrar’s landscapes [are] divided by class, gender, sexuality, and privilege, but are never wholly separate. The collection links together the rich and middle-class and poor, urban and rural, Global North and Global South, black and Arab and white.”
"These multi-layered and assured short stories show Jarrar to be a master of the form."
—Banipal: Magazine of Modern Arab Literature
“Randa Jarrar does what every brave story-teller should do—she makes sense of what other writers leave outside the bounds. She connects us with that which others have left unsaid.”
—Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin and Transatlantic
“Him, Me, Muhammad Ali is a searing collection of short stories about loving, lusting, losing, and surviving. Randa Jarrar is one of the finest writers of her generation. Her voice is assured, fiercely independent, laced with humor and irony—and always, always, honest.”
—Laila Lalami, author of The Moor’s Account and The Secret Son
“Randa Jarrar’s prose is bold and luscious and makes the darkly comic seem light. The voices in Him, Me, Muhammad Ali are powerful individually and overwhelming as a chorus. This wonderful work isn’t just a collection; it’s a world.”
—Mat Johnson, author of Pym and Loving Day
“Wow! These vibrant, funny, earthy, and above all, yearning (for love, for family, for home) stories are a revelation. Jarrar combines the invention of Calvino, the sprung style of Paley, the poetic imagery of Babel—heck, some of the stories come on like a female, Arab American Junot Díaz! But that mash-up isn’t mere stylistic exuberance; it’s a restless, relentless and deeply affecting effort to forge identity out of fragments, to make a whole out of halves. These are the stories we need right now.”
—Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl and The Ugliest House in the World
“The stories of Randa Jarrar are fearless, funny, and sad, soaring and earthly, fable-like and visceral, full of families, lovers, friends, strangers and lonely children. These stories laugh with and think through and rise against, which is just to say they brilliantly demonstrate Jarrar’s huge talent, compassion and range. Him,Me, Muhammed Ali astonishes from start to finish.”