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By Becca Hamilton.
Randa Jarrar is queer, Muslim, Arab American, and proudly fat. Orbiting around race, gender, sexuality, trauma, and female empowerment, her latest book, Love is an Ex-Country, is framed by a cross-country drive from California to Connecticut on the eve of former-President Trump's election. Straddling the line between fearlessness and vulnerability, Jarrar sets out to not only find but reclaim joy, across a landscape of an increasingly-unravelling and hostile America.
As a queer scholar of American literature and culture, it brings me joy to write former President. But it is hollow relief. Writing shortly after the Capitol riots of January 2021, factions of the angry, splintered nation still lick their wounds. Randa Jarrar writes about finding Confederate flags in a gas station and being given them for free; Confederate flags are today removed from where terrorists draped them across DC. Jarrar's bracing book feels pertinent and unapologetic, a driven and hungry howl, aching to take up space and thought in the wake of the last four years.
Love is an Ex-Country is razor sharp in its wit and interrogation. Jarrar shows what it means to be a fat, queer, Arab American, Muslim woman, both today and as a child. Raised by painfully traditional parents, she is beaten, abused, detached from her body and sense of self - but not only in the United States. Palestinian on her father's side, her identity shifts throughout her life; rocked by their tumultous relationship, by the Boston Bombings, by 9/11, perhaps most jarringly, splintered by a return trip to visit her sister in Ramallah, in which she is denied entry to Israel on account of her half-Palestinian heritage.
So, as Jarrar drives across a fracturing nation, she recounts her reclamations of autonomy and self-hood, triumphant within a body hurt by abuse, and a loneliness for a distant, moving, unobtainable homeland. Divorce. Tinder hookups. Abuse. Bar-room flirtations. A teenage pregnancy. Jarrar's is a frank, honest, bold look at domestic assault, doxxing, young single motherhood, Islam, BDSM - all the while interrogative and intimate. There will be moments, for some, in which her frank recognition and exploration of kink and masturbation is overwhelming, but it is necessary; she has ownership of herself now, understanding, and care. Her voice is a critical, raw - a woven loom of hurt and healing self - profound and curious and crafted. Euphoric. Queer, joyful, unashamed - and crucial, especially today.