Randa Hamwi
From Damascus to Seville to New York
Language: Arabic • Paperback • 300 pages
Published: Damascus, 2006 • ISBN 2-573-59239-1
Reviewer: Syriawide
From birth in Damascus, to despair in Seville, to dilemma in New York, Randa Hamwi Duwaji embarks on a courageous journey of emotion and thoughtful deliberation, tapping the pulse of the Arab nation as she travels through time and space in flowing prose and poetry. After stages of innocence, bereavement, and turmoil that verges on despair, the Arab Heart stops at the crossroads to take its bearings, acknowledging shortcomings and reassessing itself, finding new strength in itself and support in friends- before it strides towards Hope. Blending earlier composition into the new, the author rewrites much of what she had produced in English and published in published in Dubai, Washington D.C., New York State, and Damascus, and poems posted on her website. However, in putting this book together, Randa Hamwi Duwaji undertakes a journey of understanding unlike any other she had ventured upon. While all her previous works spoke in English to the western reader, the author speaks here in Arabic to an audience who identifies this heartbeat as its own, recognizes the need for change, and appreciates the work done on behalf of the Arab cause by its descendants abroad, as well as by dedicated seekers of justice from American, European, and Jewish backgrounds. Furthermore, knowing that she speaks to those who are most affected by the many crises facing the Muslim world today, the author demonstrates through painstaking research how a more precise understanding of the meaning of Qur’anic text can help correct certain misinterpretations and reinstate the original intent of the Arabic verses.

Within its pages, “An Expatriate Arab Heart: From Damascus to Seville to New York” starts with an introduction and ‘Beginnings’ and describes the difficulties of diplomatic life. It then explains how writing can help deflate crises, recognizing 9/11 as a major crisis affecting the entire Arab and Muslim world. It goes on to convey emotion and thought in ‘Introspection’, ‘Love and Loss’, ‘Inspiration’, and warms the heart with stories on friendship between people of different backgrounds. It touches upon the American dream as experienced in 1904 by the author’s great-uncle, and cites New York as a symbolic cross-road to the future, chronicling the writer’s experience with the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and involvement with Deir Yassin Remembered and the DYR Memorial in N.Y. State. Interspersed throughout the book are sections of scientific Qur’anic analyses that help understand and discuss several issues, prominent among them are the causes and remedies to the problems facing the Arab-Muslim Culture, filling the void in ‘Priorities in Islam’, and ‘The Marriage Union: Qur’an and Psychology’. The journey of this Arab Muslim heart ends with a few family poems in English for everyone to enjoy.

The cover design is highly symbolic, representative of historic incidents and discussions in the book. The flowing background motif is taken from a mural adorning the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus, its green and gold hues showcasing the Deir Yassin Memorial of New York State[8] in the foreground. The back-cover also has the mural back-drop, with highlighted book reviews in the center and a misty image of the Giralda, Minaret of Seville, above it.