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All Strangers Are Kin: Adventures in Arabic…

All Strangers Are Kin: Adventures in Arabic and the Arab World

by Zora O'Neill

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In some ways this book seems to be about something it is not. It is about the linquistics of Arabic, about its history and cultural relevance and the way language and culture interact in ways that define and shape each other, and how this is not really clear in the formal study of a language as opposed to the more organic path to learning a language through spoken relationship. I'll happily admit that I enjoyed the author's exploration of the language itself, and did not find the sections of the book about language at all tedious. But then I still possess a kernel of that girl who wanted who applied for gradutate study in linquistics. That I didn't go is a good thing as I recognize that I am not really linquist nor scholar material, but O'Neill's joy in the language and its use is familiar, and I found the book fascinating even as I recognize that it would not appeal to everyone.

Of course, although the book is clearly about language, it explores far more than mere words. Zora O'Neill travelled to four countries to travel and study and explore spoken Arabic, not the formal scholarly Arabic she learned in grad school, and the book is filled with her story. It is about Zora herself, and her own journey, as much as it is about the language and the people she meets. It is a book filled with stories, filled with humanity, filled with insight. It is a book about listening, and about living and about the complex way language shapes our interactions and our connections and about the way our daily interactions shape our lives, and the people we become. Zora O'Neill uses language to show us a sense of daily life in parts of the Arab world, a world most of us know nothing about. Through language and communication she paints a portrait of people, people very much like ourselves, people who love, and dance, joke and sing, and sometimes struggle to get by. In the beginning of the book she reminds us that the portrait we see of the middle east, through headlines and the nightly news is not normal, that "the news is, by definition, the abnormal". And she reminds of this again near the end of the book, when she is in Morocco and is asked how it feels to be an American in the Muslim world during these terrible times. But she is not aware of the terrible things going on in the news, she is simply eating, drinking, talking and studying. She is simply living, and she takes us along on her journey. Although that journey has some fits and starts, and occasionally rambles, O'Neill is a gifted storyteller with a self-deprecating sense of humor, who in the end shows us that language, like our lives, has its inconsistencies, and humor, and that yes, all strangers are kin. ( )
  dooney | Aug 3, 2016 |
An interesting memoir. I think it would make a great audiobook if a narrator could be found that could pronounce the Arabic words correctly. I enjoyed her stories about the language and her travels throughout the Middle East. She gets quite technical about the Arabic language. This would be especially interesting to someone more familiar with Arabic. I thought it was interesting, but could see how it might bog down some readers. I received a digital advanced readers copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. ( )
  njcur | Dec 15, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0547853181, Hardcover)

A lively, often hilarious, and always warm hearted exploration of Arabic language and culture

After years of studying Arabic, Zora O'Neill faced an increasing certainty that she was not only failing to master the language but was also driving herself crazy. So she stepped away. But a decade later she still couldn't shake her fascination with Arabic and returned to her studies, this time with a new approach. 
O’Neill embarks on a grand tour through the Middle East — to Egypt, the UAE, Lebanon, and Morocco — packing her dictionaries, her unsinkable sense of humor, and her talent for making fast friends of strangers. She travels along quiet, bougainvillea-lined streets and amid the lively buzz of crowded cities and medinas. She jumps off the tourist track, into families’ homes and local hotspots, and makes a part of the world that is thousands of miles away seem right next door.   
With lively prose and an eye for the deeply absurd and the deeply human, O’Neill explores the indelible links between culture and communication. All Strangers Are Kin is a powerful testament to the dynamism of language and how learning another tongue leaves you rich with so much more than words.

(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 05 Dec 2015 13:49:41 -0500)

If you've ever studied a foreign language, you know what happens when you first truly and clearly communicate with another person. As Zora O'Neill recalls, you feel like a magician. They say that Arabic takes seven years to learn and a lifetime to master. Steeped in grammar tomes and outdated textbooks, O'Neill faced an increasing certainty that she was not only failing to master Arabic, but also driving herself crazy. She took a decade-long hiatus, but couldn't shake her fascination with the language or the cultures it had opened up to her. So she decided to jump back in--this time with a new approach. Join O'Neill for a grand tour through the Middle East. You will laugh with her in Egypt, delight in the stories she passes on from the United Arab Emirates, and find yourself transformed by her experiences in Lebanon and Morocco. She's packed her dictionaries, her unsinkable sense of humor, and her talent for making fast friends of strangers. From quiet streets to crowded medinas, from families' homes to local hotspots, she brings a part of the world that is thousands of miles away right to your door, reminding us that learning another tongue leaves you rich with so much more than words.--Adapted from dust jacket.… (more)

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