Juggling between Church communions and Quran recitations is a unique life experience, and Malaka Gharib lived through precisely that, courtesy of her Christian mother and Muslim father. I found out about Malaka’s graphic novel memoir “I Was Their American Dream” after reading her second work “It Won’t Always Be Like This” and had to pick it up. Both books are memoirs and if you have read neither, it’s probably better to read them in the order of their publication date.
Born to an Egyptian father and a Filipino mother, Malaka Gharib is a unique first-generation mixed American. She barely knew anybody with the same ancestry as hers while she was growing up. However, living in a locality filled with immigrant families like hers and attending a school where there were almost no White people, Malaka how she grew up in protected bubble. This bubble bursts when she finally enters the adult world as a university student and then as a working individual. But Malaka’s struggle to “fit in” will resonate with many readers.
“I Was Their American Dream” condenses most of Malaka’s life and explores what it is like to have two parents who not only came from different countries and cultures but also from different faiths. Malaka’s doodle-style simple illustrations are cute, but I enjoyed the style more in her second novel as it focused more on her childhood memories. This graphic novel is also in color, though it’s mostly composed of reds and blues, so it often appears as if Malaka simply drew everything freestyle with a marker pen, which might very well be the case. The illustrations are engaging enough for school students, but older graphic novel enthusiasts like me would’ve preferred to see more detailed artwork.
Less than 200 pages long, the graphic novel begins with an adorable family tree introducing almost a dozen of Malaka’s kin. However, the quick pace makes it difficult to develop a connection with any character apart from maybe Malaka herself. You meet Malaka as a baby in the first few pages, but soon she is a teen going through her rebellious phase. Then, suddenly, she is a young woman who has already found the man of her dreams and is ready to marry. The author crams a lot of story into this little memoir, so each section feels like a recap of a certain part of her life. If there’s one character that manages to leave a mark, it’s Malaka’s mother, who does her best to provide for her kids while struggling to juggle her work and personal life as a divorced mother. The opening chapter describes how Malaka’s mom would often tell her, “You have to do better than us,” a quote encapsulating what most parents around the world hope for their children.
While this was an interesting book for me as a non-American, I am not sure how interesting it would be for American readers, since there are already tonnes of books exploring multi-racial experiences.
Rating: 3.5 on 5.
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