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Sonora, by Hannah Lillith Assadi

October 8, 2016

Sonora, by Hannah Lilith Assadi.  Soho Press (2017), 208 pages.

3 stars

An impressionistic coming-of-age novel about the daughter of a Palestinian father and an Israeli mother who lived first in the Arizona desert and then in the equally arid streets of New York.

Like the chief character in her novel, Hannah Lillith Assadi grew up in the Sonoran desert around Phoenix.  Coming to New York as a young adult, she attended Columbia University where she graduated summa cum laude in Middle Eastern Literature and Languages and Creative Writing.  She went on to earn a M.F.A. at Columbia and has published poetry, essays, translations, and short stories. This is her first novel.

Assadi moves her story back and forth through various times in the life of Ahlam, or Ariel, as she sometimes prefers to be called.   Her narration moves quickly from a visit with her family back in Phoenix as an adult to desert lands she knew as a child and adolescent to her experiences in New York as a young woman.  Although her parents care deeply about their divergent ethnic backgrounds, such issues mean little to Ahlam.  Her main ties are with her best and only friend, Laura, with whom she explored and experimented in  Arizona.  Traveling to New York City, the pair becomes sucked into a life of drugs and partying.  Although their bonds are strong and sex pervades the novel, their attraction is not depicted as lesbian.  Ahlam is always prone to visions, which intensify during her drug-filled years in New York, a place as lonely and uncaring as the desert from which she came.

Beautiful, lyrical writing appears throughout the book.  As always I enjoyed the wild, stark desert scenes.  Assadi deliberately structures the book around the chaos and longings of her character.  I can understand that approach abstractly, but in reality, I found the writing confusing.  I had a sense that I was missing something; perhaps I was right.

Sonora is one of those books that others may appreciate more than I did.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2016 7:00 pm

    “Although her parents care deeply about their divergent ethnic backgrounds, such issues mean little to Ahlam”.
    It sounds as if the author is as narcissistic as her character. She has the opportunity to write a powerful story about love transcending decades of hatred and violence, and instead she *yawn* writes about her drug adventures, partying and sex!

  2. October 8, 2016 9:39 pm

    Yes. I was trying to be nice. And that fact that she obviously has talent makes it particularly sad.

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