The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Syrian-American author, Mohja Kahf, is the coming of age story of Khadra, a Syrian-born girl who grows up in Indiana. The novel is told through the voice of Khadra as an adult. As we read about her life as she grows up from childhood to adulthood, we gain an insight into what it is like to be an Arab and a Muslim living in America. We learn about the struggles Arab-Americans face in order to be accepted and belong to multiple communities at once: the Arab and Muslim communities and American society.
The challenge Khadra faces is compounded by the fact that the Arab community, the Muslim community and American society are not homogeneous groups of people. Each of them is plural and each of them wants to claim more authenticity over the others. This means that just as there are struggles between various communities, there are struggles also within each community. Mohja Khahf gives voice to all these struggles in her novel.
Some of the central topics in this novel include: the diversity of Arab identities; the multiplicity of Muslim identities and practices (Sunni Islam, Shii Islam, Sufism, African Muslims, African-American Muslims); hyphenated identities; veiling; intolerance and prejudice against Arabs and Muslims.
For more information, see Neil MacFarquhar’s 2007 article for the New York Times, which discusses Kahf’s popularity as an author, explores some of the common themes of her poetry and novels, and looks at what it means to her to be an Arab American women in the United States, one who “both respects her own faith and yet uses the advantages offered by being an American, like free speech, to explore its every corner.”