Big Books & Bold Ideas with Kerri Miller

Diana Abu-Jaber on family myths and inheritance

Woman and book cover
Diana Abu-Jaber’s latest novel, “Fencing with the King,” was just released on paperback, and excavates her own family’s history in Jordan to examine family lore and the meaning of inheritance.
Courtesy photos

Diana Abu-Jaber’s family has deep roots in Jordan. Her father came to America after a failed marriage proposal — an act of “revenge immigration,” she laughs. And while he lived in the U.S., married here and raised a family here, his never truly left his homeland behind.

Book cover
The artwork for the hardcover edition of “Fencing with the King” is among author Diana Abu-Jaber’s all-time favorites.
Courtesy photo

Growing up in a thoroughly Jordanian household within an American context shaped Abu-Jaber’s life. She traveled to Jordan with her family and was often startled to discover hidden aspects to her father during her visits.

It was this mix of identity and heritage, of belonging to a culture or land that one can no longer possess, that inspired her latest novel, “Fencing with the King” — so named because she learned, later in life, that her father was once a favorite sparring partner with the king of Jordan.

“It’s like he had a before and after life,” she tells MPR News host Kerri Miller on this week’s Big Books and Bold Ideas. “Dad was trained to spar with King Hussein, and this was something he never talked about when we were growing up. I didn’t even know he knew how to fence until I was an adult.”

Her book vividly takes readers on a journey to the modern day Middle East, where questions of displacement and reclamation, of family identity and inheritance linger. Join Abu-Jaber and Miller for a conversation about homeland, myths and legacy on this week’s Big Books and Bold Ideas.


To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.

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