Dream Homes by Joyce Zonana

dreamhomes-fullAs I mentioned in a previous post, I had the pleasure of having Joyce Zonana as my professor during my freshman year of college. She taught me the accompanying writing and discussion course to my Ancient Greek Literature course, a course that still remains in my favorites of my college years. I had an instant liking to Dr. Zonana as I think the rest of the class did. She was passionate about her work, she was passionate as a person, and she brought life and discussion to the classroom. The first thing we’d do in each class was arrange our desks into a circle so we could all discuss things together. We would begin talking about The Odyssey or The Oedipus Cycle, or Plato’s Republic and Symposium and eventually the discussion would roam to wherever it took us. We’d talk about our pasts, our presents, the state of the world, etc. and it was just what I imagined a college course to be if not more. Meanwhile Dr. Zonana would passionately scribble what we discussed onto the board and make lists of our topics of discussion. It was wonderful. I’d see her at PJ’s Coffee Shop occasionally after that course and I sought out other courses by her, but I never had the chance to sit down and discuss things with her again after that class.

One day while on LibraryThing I see that Dr. Zonana is doing a reading from her new book at the Garden District Bookshop! A book?! Sadly I had missed the reading and signing, but I was thrilled to hear that she had written a book. It’s entitled Dream Homes: From Cairo to Katrina, An Exile’s Journey. I jumped into it immediately after finding it in the biography section at my local Barnes & Noble.

The book is magnificent and perfectly written with sweeping prose and intimate details that somehow relate to anyone who’s ever sought to find themselves, experienced pain or prejudice, experienced the love of one’s family, the frustration with one’s family, the growth of independence, and a passion for life.

Joyce Zonana is an Egyptian Jew. I imagine from this book that she’s quite proud of that heritage now, but it was a long road to get there. She was born in Cairo and moved to the United States, to New York to be precise, as a very young child after her parents decision to leave when Egypt became a somewhat hostile place for Jews. She grew up among a family of Sephardic Jews from Egypt who still held to much of their culture and old ways while she grew as a young woman of the United States. There are pieces of that culture that she seemingly loved and pieces of that culture that felt oppressive, but it was her culture, her past, her present at times.

Her family spoke French and Arabic while she spoke perfect English in order to fit in with the Americans around her. She’s lived a life trying to find herself..”an exile’s journey” is the perfect subtitle to this memoir. That’s what it is.  The story of her journey towards her acceptance of who she is, a combination of her past, her heritage, all of her experiences, a teacher, a lover, a human. It’s fascinating to be witness to her growth and exploration. While I always feel voyeuristic in a way in reading memoirs, it’s always a rewarding experience. Never was this more true than with this book.

I’m really not doing justice to this memoir. I found myself crying with Joyce Zonana as she visited Cairo for the first time, I found my mouth watering as she describes some of the middle eastern recipes that she enjoys (included in the back of the book) such as stuffed grape leaves, I found myself growing dizzy and lost as she describes her first lessons in belly dance and the calm that it brought her, I find myself distraught once again as she goes over the devastation of Katrina, I fell in love with all of the treasures and antiques from her past. I found all of this and more in this wonderful book.

I hope that Dr. Zonana has more to come. I would love to hear some more of her exotic experiences, her insightful thoughts. I said in a previous post that I would be pressuring people to buy this one and that still holds true. Get lost in this amazing memoir…you certainly won’t regret it.