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.

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13 Responses

  1. Sounds wonderful and what a great class that must have been! I’m sorry you missed the signing/reading. Maybe she’ll do another one, near you. Fingers crossed.

  2. Oh! This one sounds just my style!

  3. Bookfool, It really was a wonderful book and I have no doubt that you’d enjoy it as well. I’m hoping she comes back here sometime too! We’ll see.

    Eva, It really is your style! You’d love this one…I actually thought about you while reading it!

  4. The sounds like an amazing woman. How cool that you were lucky enough to have her as your professor!

  5. that is just too cool!

    and that college course sounds brilliant! those courses truly are priceless and have such a profound affect on our lives.

  6. I stuck this on my wish list right after you first mentioned it…and I guarantee it’s the very next book I’m ordering for myself. It sounds wonderful!

  7. So one of the wonderful things about writing a book about yourself is that you then get to read what other people have to say about you and your book! Thank you to Chris for the wonderful review, and to all you readers of the blog who are inspired by him. I am so grateful that my words can touch people. And I WILL be back in New Orleans for a book reading/signing — I’ll be at Tulane on February 6th and at the Jewish Community Center in New Orleans on February 8th. And I’m working on setting something up at a bookstore then too! And, Chris, I’m looking for a falafel recipe to send you.

  8. Dr. Zonana, I should write a book and see what people have to say :p Actually I did write a book during National Novel Writing Month last year, but I don’t think it’s NEAR publishable, lol. Glad you enjoyed the review! It’s all very true. And I’m so excited to hear that you’ll be in town for another couple of signings!!! I’m putting the dates on my calendar now! I’ll be waiting for that falafel recipe 😉

  9. […] 1. Dream Homes by Joyce Zonana 2. Nation by Terry Pratchett 3. Madapple by Christina Meldrum 4. Veins by Lawrence […]

  10. It must be so cool to read a memoir of such a good professor. I’ve had great ones too and would love to read their books too. you’re lucky. This sounds amazing, must add it to wish list:)

  11. […] I found this wonderful video of my old professor, Dr. Zonana talking about her book, Dream Homes. One of my favorite reads of last year. Go check it […]

  12. Joyce, this is a long-overdue thank you for a glorious read! I took several courses with you as a graduate student in the 1990s; you were my first thesis director (and so brave to take on an oral history of 3 New Orleans women when no one else had done anything like it before!). It was such a treat to see you again for the reading at UNO, and I have to say I put aside my work to read Dream Homes cover to cover that very weekend. I have since passed it on to several colleagues at Delgado who have also enjoyed it tremendously, and the Times-Picayune review is displayed on my office door. At the UNO reading I had the sense that Dream Homes was a gift you had written – for yourself, your family, and for your readers, not unlike the extraordinarily generous gift you gave each of your students every semester with your passion for literature and self-expression. When I finished your book, I was so grateful to be one of the recipients of that gift, complete with such vivid family stories and insights, even recipes! Thank you again for such a beautifully crafted work and for coming back to New Orleans to share it with us yourself.

  13. […] wonderful Chris sent me Dream Homes by Joyce Zonana for Christmas last year. He wrote a mouthwatering review of it back in 2008, and I was sad that my library didn’t have it. So you can imagine my thrill when […]

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