Book Review: When We Were Arabs

This is definitely one of my favorite nonfiction books this year.

This is the story of the author’s grandparents, Oscar (Moroccan/Egyptian) and Daida (Tunisian), who are Jewish Arab and flee their countries post WWI and the creation of Israel. But more than that, it’s about reclaiming Arabness, on what it means to be both Jewish and Arab.

This book transported me back to Alexandria, my second home, but also in time, to a Golden Age in the city that Alexandrians still boast about but I didn’t get to see. As I read, I took note of old Egyptian movies I’d love to watch, songs I must listen to and books to add to my endless #tbr.

I particularly loved how the author introduces us to the idea that we all have several origin stories. In one of my family’s origin stories, we are Sephardic Jews that find our way to Mexico via the Arab World, possibly Lebanon. And this book made me understand Jewish recent history better and the different realities of Sephardic Jews, European Jews, Arab and African Jews (not to erase Asian Jews and others) and how they’ve been affected by white supremacy, colonialism and Zionism in different ways. I find it to be one of those books that has open my eyes and changed my worldview for ever. One of those books EVERYONE (but particularly us Muslims with ties to North Africa) should read.

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