Category: Georgetown Magazine, Spring 2023

Title:Alumna’s memoir analyzes political instability, social impact

Author: Gabrielle Barone
Date Published: April 17, 2023
a woman looks at the camera while resting her chin on her hand
Photo: Cherine Jokhdar

Amal Ghandour (SFS’83) grew up in a home filled with books about Middle Eastern politics. Now, Ghandour can add her second work, This Arab Life: A Generation’s Journey into Silence, to her family library.

A memoir of the generation that came of political age in the 1980s—along with her own insights and political knowledge—This Arab Life examines the varied political and social structures in the Middle East and the upheavals of recent decades. She picked up her interest in the subject from her father, a revolutionary who was sentenced to death by the Lebanese state in 1962 and had to flee to Jordan in exile.

With my books, I write for clarity. I don’t achieve clarity and then sit and write; I actually achieve clarity through the act of writing.

“When you grow up in a house that’s very much involved in politics, you tend to acquire certain skills and insights,” says Ghandour.

While she was already well-acquainted with the Middle Eastern region’s turbulent and chaotic geopolitical history, Ghandour found the mining of her personal history—growing up in and coming to understand the realities of living in a politically strained area and time—to be a more complex goal.

a book with the words "This Arab Life: A Generation's Journey into Silence"
Amal Ghandour (SFS’83) dedicated her memoir, This Arab Life, to her mother and father.

“When you are asking yourself very difficult questions, your natural defenses emerge,” says Ghandour. “I had to be very aware of my defense mechanisms. I had to understand and appreciate [what I was learning] and finally commit to a very honest story.”

She also found the writing process to be therapeutic. “With my books, I write for clarity. I don’t achieve clarity and then sit and write; I actually achieve clarity through the act of writing.”

Ghandour’s first book, About This Man Called Ali: The Purple Life of an Arab Artist, is a historical narrative of the East Mediterranean through the life and art of artist Ali al Jabri.

Ghandour hopes her latest book will offer an intimate historical context to the complex area—“beautiful and painful, hopeful and hopeless”—to members of the younger generation.

“It’s always very painful for me, and I suspect for anyone of my generation, when they look at me and say ‘We don’t recognize this place you’re talking about,’” says Ghandour.

She also hopes that the book will appeal to all, whether they’re familiar with the topic or newly learning.

“[I want it to speak to] those who don’t know the Arab world or are always asking themselves, ‘Why is it this way?’ It’s an intimate story. Bookstores are just jam-packed with some wonderful books about the Arab world and, of course, the Middle East, but very few books offer a personal history, something very close to the heart.”

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