Narrate stories through food. About Diana Abu Jaber's novel "Crescent"

Essay, 2018

15 Pages


“Without ever realizing it, Camille had fallen under the spell of the Siren’s call: the sound that contains of scent of berries, chocolate, and mint, what tastes of salt and oil and blood, that sounds like a heart’s murmur, the passage of clouds to prayers, the beloved’s name and a distant ringing in the ears”. (Jaber, 2004)

Narrate Stories through food:

Diana Abu Jaber in her novel Crescent uses food as a complex language to communicate love, memory and exile. Food also is a metaphor by which Abu Jaber questions the symbolic boundaries embodied in culture, closes, and ethnicity. Food is a real conservatory of the homeland memories and gives up the possibility to imagine mingled identities and traditions. In the novel, the food stands to use a metaphor that deals with the presence and absence of cultural and familial bands. Furthermore, food builds the act of narration through the actions which come to pass in kitchens; those actions mark the pain of exile and loss as well as the hope of family and community. To put it differently, the kitchen becomes “first things taste” which refers to be a cupboard or a “shrine” (Shihab, 1995). So, Abu Jaber uses food to build space in which the possibilities of peace, love and community that are imagined. Lisa Suhair Majaj in Arab American literature and politics of memory suggests that Nye’s poetry “explores the markers of cross cultural complexity” (Majaj, 1996). From this point, Dina Abu Jaber’s novel tends to discuss the act of cooking and food. The character Aziz who is a poet quotes “let the beauty we love be what we do, there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground” (Jaber, 2004). Carolyn Korsmeyer states that “eating together is a common signal among most peoples for friendship, tierce or celebration” she adds, “Both eating and narrative are cultural practices. When food is treated in fiction therefore, it brings to light the way eating may achieve significance within the tradition the narrative in question addresses or in which it participates” she adds that “the intimacy of eating trust presumed the social equality of those who sit down together, and the shared tastes and pleasures of the table”. (Korsmeyer, 1999)

In this vein, food can be analyzed in non-verbal dimension as well as be listed as cultural experience that cannot be readily translated.

Diana’s novel Crescent uses food as a language through which the characters migrate and live the nostalgia of their home land Identity. Food becomes a sphere of refuge or a contact zone where “the spare of colonial encounters, the space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations” also this contact contains “conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict” (Pratt, 1992), so the contact zone used in the novel seems to be a domestic one that located in cafés, kitchens and homes from this perspectives the novel confirms the theme of the world- as- home and the theme of personal as political.

Moreover, food as a contact language may be employed as one of “improvised language that develop among speakers of different native languages who need to communicate with each other consistently, usually in context of trade” Pratt emphasizes that contact zone “such languages are commonly regarded as chaotic, barbarous, lacking in structure” (Pratt, 1992). Abu Jaber’s novel Crescent and the memoir The Language of Baklava, use food as a bridge which melts the gap that is sounds as aches and add structure to narrative. Diana commits that “eating is one of the things that crystallize your experiences and the metaphor of food is a way to translate these cultural experiences. Thus, the treatment of food in Crescent becomes a “safe” way from white American readers to listen to dangerous to picks like war, Iraq, the middle east” (Esa, 2002). Here, the food is used as an act of translation.

One of the major items that Diana tackles in her writings is to humanize the Arabs, “to put a human face on people who are culturally erased” , provide human histories, family life, the day-to- day small things that people can relate to, food, family, love, loss” (Esa, 2002). Diana Abu Jaber in Crescen t tries to give more important signs to the storytelling in its relation to food. The novel centers on the way Serine makes food as well as her uncle ways of telling story. These two progressions happen and cross each other in the kitchen where Serine feeds her uncle the Arabic food, and he tells her the Scherazadian tales. “A lesser- Known fact about jinns (genies)”, the uncle explains that their homes may lack “living rooms or dining rooms or studies or bathrooms or even every comfortable beds, they do like a nice kitchen, to satisfy their sweet tooth, may be bake a little knaffea, brew a little coffee, have a few people over- that sort of things” (Jaber, 2004), this extract tries to resemble Serine to Jinns as the blond haired, blue eyes chef of Iraqi descent who appreciates a nice kitchen Serine utilizes food to become a contact language, to say it differently, a canal to translate experience and bring meaning to the world.

Food is interchangeable to love, prayer and healing as stop was young, Serine uses the contact language and further, she uses it as translation in order to create an understandable communication with the surrounding in the café. Serine learned that “food was better than love: surer, truer, more satisfying and enriching. As long as she could lose herself in the rhythms of peeling an onion, she was complete and whole and as long as she could cook, she would be loved” (Jaber, 2004). From this angle, the only truth that Serine is cooking “the only truth she seemed to possess” (Jaber, 2004) the act of cooking seems to be a strength and force for Serine, when she fails in her life, when she has a feeling of uncertainty confusion and identify conflict, she goes to the kitchen to realize her existence through cooking.

Franz fanon’s epigraph “in the world through a travel, I am endlessly creating myself” (Fanon, 1967) which going parallel with the act of cooking; besides characters in Diana’s novel constitute hybrid identities that intertwine strength and choice within a fluid and stander space, the characters Tries to situate themselves as Arab, American, or Arab- American.

Abu Jaber tries to discuss the topic of difference through the people and places in order to show that identity is a fluid and often illusory. When Serine asks Aziz if he is Muslim, he shrugs and in an answer, that evokes Walt Whitman, replies, “Who knows? I am Aziz large, I contain multitudes. I defy classification” (Jaber, 2004).The epigraph highlights that we cannot recognize persons from the appearance that he or she shows. As a result, Serine who is Blond, white skinned is a half Arab. The covered Man who kidnaps Abdelrahman is covered woman who transforms to a mermaid Queen Alieph. The police officers go to Nadia’s café not to annoy customers and clients, but to look for hummus and to catch up on their favorite Arabic soap operas on TV. To make it more easily, here I notice that identities becomes fluid and slipper through which the characters center around the food.

Homi Bhabha developed a new concepts into colonial discourse in order to challenge the pre-established notions of imperialism, he states “dispels the specter of pure culture with the realism of hybridity” and also “spools the intricate, delectable misunderstanding between the colonize and the colonized with the image of mimicry” and he presents a third space that « quite properly challenges our sense of the historical identity of culture as a homogenizing, unifying force” (Bhabha, 1994). Diana’s novel the Crescent examines the mentions of cross-culturalism and the being in the in between.

Bhabha states “what is theoretically innovative, and politically crucial, is the need to think beyond narratives of ordinary and initial subjectivities and to focus on those moments or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences” (Bhabha, 1994). So, “in between” spaces “provide the terrain for elaborating strategies of self-hood- singular or communal – that initiate new signs of identity, and innovative sites of collaboration and contestation, in the act of defining the idea of society itself” (Bhabha, 1994).

Self-identity and origins seem to be the central questions that Serine tries to find their answer. Moreover, Serine tries to elaborate techniques of selfhood especially when she looks in the mirror “all she can see is white” and describing her eyes as “almond –shaped, and see green” also other features as “tidy and compact. Entirely her mother” (Jaber, 2004). From those epigraphs, persons wonder as they know that Serine in held Arab. Serine deliberates that she “inherited her mother on the outside and her father from inside, and she thinks of she could examine” the blood and bones and the shape of her mind and emotions- she thinks she would find her truer and deeper nature”. She “imagines her parents, young expecting their first child, expecting, perhaps, a true amalgam of their two bodies. Were they disappointed, she wonders, to have an entirely fair-skinned child?” (Jaber, 2004). This statement clarifies Serine’s Questions about her origins are in-between as Arab- American.

Serine looks for her identity within this concept of in-between of cultural difference through food and in contradiction of her uncle’s stories. As Serine feels loss and exile and as a result to look for her nostalgia and security let her to seek comfort in cooking. Respectively, food is defined as Serine’s moods, philosophy of life, and existence in the world. Moreover, Serine gets surprised why “whenever she tries to deliberately seek out something like God, she gets distracted… and she finds that instead she is thinking about something like stuffed grape leaves rolled tightly around rice, ground land, garlic, onions, currants, fragrant with green olive oil” (Jaber, 2004). Her close thinking is “to exist inside the simplest actions, like chopping an onion or stirring a pot” (Jaber, 2004).


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Narrate stories through food. About Diana Abu Jaber's novel "Crescent"
Sultan Moulay Sliman University  (Faculty of arts)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
food, telling stories, identity
Quote paper
Adil Ouatat (Author), 2018, Narrate stories through food. About Diana Abu Jaber's novel "Crescent", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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