The Scent of Jasmine: Coming of Age in Jerusalem and Damascus by Anan Ameri
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Anan Ameri is a prominent member of the Arab American community and one of the founders of the Arab American Museum in Dearborn. Her father was a prominent intellectual and activist of Palestinian descent; her beautiful and spirited mother was born into a wealthy Syrian family. Anan’s memoir, told with warmth and humor, provides a window into a vanished way of life and gives an intimate view of the conflict that besets the region.
Her family fled Jerusalem at the birth of the state of Israel and headed to Damascus. There her mother’s family occupied a prominent place in the community and a beautiful home filled with the scent of jasmine. (The family home is still owned by a cousin and is a well-known Damascene restaurant. You can find pictures of it here: www.jabrihouse.com.) It provides a backdrop to many vivid scenes of an Arab girlhood. It may surprise some readers that Anan’s parents did not just encourage their daughters to be educated but demanded it, and this was not an unusual thing at the time for those with means. She attended university in Beirut, Amman, and Cairo. Her mother, a successful business woman, encouraged her independence.
While the book describes the tragic unrest and upheaval that shaped Anan, it offers hope in the form of Anan herself, who became a tireless advocate for the causes of justice and peace both in her homeland and in the U.S. The next installment of her memoir will talk about her American years, and it promises to be just as filled with clear and loving observation as this volume. I know because I’ve seen a few chapters. Full disclosure: Anan is a member of the Ann Arbor Area Writers Group, which I also attend, and where I heard much of her first book.