Halaby, Laila 1966-

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Halaby, Laila 1966-


Born 1966, in Lebanon; immigrated to United States as an infant; married Raik Zaghloul; children: two. Education: Washington University, B.A.


Home—Tucson, AZ. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer. Arizona College of Public Health, University of Arizona, Tucson, outreach counselor.


Fulbright fellowship, c. 1987, to study folklore in Jordan; PEN Beyond Margins Award, and silver medal for literary fiction, Foreword Magazine, both for West of the Jordan.


West of the Jordan (novel), Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2003.

Once in a Promised Land (novel), Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2006.


The daughter of a Jordanian father and an American mother, Laila Halaby speaks four languages and has traveled widely in the Middle East. She was drawn to write about the Arab American experience after spending a year in Jordan on a Fulbright scholarship. The result was her debut novel, West of the Jordan. The novel reveals the lives of four cousins who are growing up under different circumstances and with widely different worldviews. Hala has grown up in Arizona, but during a visit to her grandmother in Jordan she realizes she has deep ties to that nation as well. Mawal is living a traditional young woman's life on the West Bank in the village of Nawara. Another cousin, Soraya, engages in rebellious activities as a fully Americanized Californian, and tragically withdrawn Khadija lives in America but still cannot escape her father's abuse. Halaby offers no easy solutions as her characters seek to understand themselves and their dual cultural heritages, nor does she suggest that making a new life in America inevitably brings happiness and liberation. As Dori DeSpain noted in School Library Journal, the author makes clear that "growing up is messy and difficult whatever the ethnicity or religion." According to Elsa Gaztambide in Booklist, "Halaby's voice conveys a tapestry of images." A Publishers Weekly reviewer liked the way the characters come to grips with "issues of identity." The reviewer concluded: "Contemplative and lush, this coming-of-age tale resonates with the challenges of cross-cultural life."

Halaby's next novel, Once in a Promised Land, incorporates similar cultural struggles faced by an Arab American couple living in Tucson, Arizona, in addition to more adult themes such as dishonesty, adultery, and death. A Kirkus Reviews contributor found Halaby's strengths to be "the quality of incidental observation and her efforts to pinpoint the differing values between America." In an article for Publishers Weekly, a reviewer remarked that Halaby's "prose crackles."



Booklist, June 1, 2003, Elsa Gaztambide, review of West of the Jordan, p. 1742.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2006, review of Once in a Promised Land, p. 924.

Library Journal, April 1, 2003, Faye A. Chadwell, review of West of the Jordan, p. 128.

Publishers Weekly, April 7, 2003, review of West of the Jordan, p. 42; September 11, 2006, review of Once in a Promised Land, p. 33.

School Library Journal, October, 2003, Dori DeSpain, review of West of the Jordan, p. 208.


Arizona Republic,http://arizonarepublic.com/ (July 22, 2003), Barbara Yost, "Tucson Novelist Links Arab, U.S. Cultures."

Tucson Weekly,http://tucsonweekly.com/ (May 22, 2003), Joan Schuman, "Over Here, Over There."