Review of ’Arous Amman, a novel by Jordanian writer and blogger Fadi Zaghmout

’Arous Amman (Amman’s bride), a controversial book in both its form and content

Book cover of 'Arous Amman

Book cover of ‘Arous Amman

In an interview on Roya Jordanian TV channel with writer and blogger Fadi Zaghmout, the presenter referred to a gay character in Zaghmout’s novel ’Arous Amman as shaz (an offensive term to describe gays, similar to faggot). „Muthley,” Zaghmout corrected her using a politically correct word for “homosexual”. By the end of the interview, the presenter was using „LGBT-friendly language”.

More than a literary work, Zaghomout’s first novel ’Arous Amman is an activism work advocating women rights and sexual liberties in the conservative Jordanian society. The novel is based on  a collection of short stories, film scripts and blog posts that Zaghmout published on his popular blog. The blog had 118,745 subscribers at the time of publishing this review.

What makes Zaghmout’s blog-turned-into-novel stand out is that it not only tackles some of the major taboos in Jordanian society like domestic rape, inter-religious marriages, sex out-of-wedlock which are often covered in contemporary literature, but it also raises other sensitive issues that are less talked about like LGBT rights and the sexual rights of women who were tricked into marrying homosexual men to hide the husband’s sexual orientation. What also makes it unique is that it is one of the few Arab feminist novels written by a man. Perhaps this is also why it is one of the few novels that don’t crucify men and blame them solely for the plight of women in the Arab world. Rather, Zaghmout presents them as loving fathers and supportive husbands and sometimes even victims of the patriarchal society just like women, blaming women rights violations in the Arab world on the patriarchal upbringing, ignorance and social pressure among others. It is also one of the few feminist novels I read that managed to walk the fine line between creating sympathy for its violated women and LGBT characters and being too depressive. In his novel, Zaghmout does not only showcase the problems that Jordanian women and LGBTs face, but also explains the mentality behind it.

The form and language of ’Arous Amman is no less controversial than its content. It is made up of a series of monologues and reflections by its main characters: 4 women and a homosexual man with very little dialogue. If this sounds daunting, it isn’t. Zaghmout divided his novel into short, blog like sections written in a simple language often using colloquial words which made it easy to read and accessible for a wider audience. While the style he adopted definitely helps in spreading his advocacy message, it triggered heated debates among the more traditional Jordanian intellectuals who call for elitist literature written in pure fusha (literary Arabic language).

Rather than its simple language and form, which I personally found suitable for the message that the novel conveys, what I didn’t like in ’Arous Amman is its romantic ’everyone lived happily ever after’ ending because it lies in contrast with the story’s serious and sometimes even tragic tone. To avoid including spoilers here… it just wasn’t convincing!

’Arous Amman is definitely a good choice if you are a foreigner interested in better understanding the psychology behind women and LGBT rights violations in the Arab world. While the novel might offer little new information for Arab readers, its power lies in challenging the traditional mindset of Arab societies and being brave enough to call social prejudices and atrocities by the name.

19 thoughts on “Review of ’Arous Amman, a novel by Jordanian writer and blogger Fadi Zaghmout

  1. Thank you Nadia. .this is a good review. One point I would like to highlight is that the “unconvincing” positive endings are actually a direct reflection of the lives of the people I inspired those stories from :). Reality can be more weird than fiction. I think that many of us learn how to deal with their shortcomings and troubled lives and end up gaining much out of that experience.. I wanted to show that in Aroos Amman 🙂

    • It’s amazing that this actually can be true! unfortunately, most of the cases I meet are not so happy. I think you should mention in a preface or introduction in your next edition of the book that it is based on true stories. This would add a lot to it 🙂

  2. I think what makes it unconvincing for me is that in the case of the father of the run-away-bride for example (sorry a spoiler here), he was never introduced to us so I didn’t witness the process that changed him. At the beginning he refused all contact with his daughter and then suddenly a year later? (can’t remember the time now… sorry) he was calling and apologizing. We never really got what provoked this radical change.

  3. Well yes.. true.. maybe it needed some details.. but I focused on what triggered the reactions of the main characters.. ofcourse the force was love.. his love to his daughter overcoming the social expectations, the value of honor and its ties with his manhood identity..

    • I truly respect this father because he finally chose to stand by his daughter and bear the consequences. I’ve seen it happening so many times that fathers are forced to choose between cutting all ties with their daughters (in worse cases killing here) or being excluded themselves from their religious community. In most cases they went for the first. I think it is great that you highlighted the huge pressure these families face in the cases of inter-religious marriages.

          • I am very interested in reading this book however I cant read Arabic either. I hope by now there is an English version as there are many Arabs who live in the west with similar experiences. Please post if there is an English version. Thanks!

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