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Dearborn: Stories


Dearborn: Stories

Each of the stories in Ghassan Zeineddine’s debut collection, DEARBORN, connects different people with particular dates and causes for their immigration to America. They show the immigrants creating their new lives in Michigan, specifically Dearborn, a city of more than 100,000 and home to the Ford Motor Company. Although the population is around 50% of Arab nationality, no one of Arab heritage holds a position of leadership. Perhaps this identifies the contradictory sense of pride in being American but not being of America.

In “Yusra” (a primarily female name of Arab origin meaning success), the eponymous narrator identifies the conflict in a few sentences. He is Yusra. He is Yasser. He is a father, a husband, a respected man in his community. He is a butcher, as was his father, grandfather and great-grandfather; “the cleaver runs in the family like a curse,” he says. However, Yasser becomes Yusra on Friday mornings when he drives to Hamtramck and dresses in the back of the air-conditioned van: a sleeveless dress for plus-sized women, lipstick, mascara, clip-on earrings. At last a hijab, leaving only a slit for the eyes.

"The stories in DEARBORN show love and betrayal, tragedy and sublime emotions, all familiar in human terms."

Yusra walks the streets of Hamtramck, far enough away from Detroit not to be recognized, with some thoughts of his beloved wife and failed son at home. With coffee on his breath and red velvet cupcake on his lips, he hears a call to prayer. He enters the nearby mosque, no one suspecting a thing, and removes his heels to join the women’s side. He kneels, touches his forehead on the floor and stops himself from laughing aloud. For this brief moment, Yusra is drunk happy.

“Speedoman” tells the story of a magnificent hunk of a man who appears at the Ford Community Center one snowy day. He enters the jacuzzi where Arab men and their Arab wives (their brown faces have scared off the whites) were relaxing after a good workout on a Saturday afternoon. The stranger has a bushy mustache, long sideburns and a pink robe. What man wears pink? was the collective thought. The men --- and the women --- watch him put down his book, fold his towel over a chair and take off the pink robe. He is wearing a sky-blue Speedo, and in that instant he becomes Speedoman. He is now the focal point as the women narrate, followed by the men, and they describe the fantastic man and their reactions.

The men recall a terrifying incident that happened the previous week when ICE agents had taken an Arab brother from his home in handcuffs. The rage and the futility of cries of “We are American” are somewhat ameliorated by the diversion of Speedoman’s appearance. Even the tattoo of a Lebanese cedar tree on his back was both comforting and startling. There will be a settled ending, but it will be costly.

The FBI is interested in any Arab man who may be breaking the law. Badria decides to act boldly in “I Have Reason to Believe My Neighbor is a Terrorist,” which is exactly what she tells the authorities. Badria, a 52-year-old housewife, knows exactly what she is doing as she carries cigarette boxes into her neighbor’s basement and stashes them in plain sight. There will be questions about the taxes paid on cigarettes coming from another state. She has paid attention for 30 years and knows what will happen the next morning.

The threat for brown people of being questioned, bullied or worse permanently underlies the bustling streets of Dearborn, the butcher shop specializing in kafta, and the car wash with complimentary maamoul cookies at the front desk. The stories in DEARBORN show love and betrayal, tragedy and sublime emotions, all familiar in human terms. Zeineddine’s knowledge of Dearborn and its specific cast of Arab actors is shown clearly, soaked in orange blossom water, layered in sukar, held aloft in a hookah bar.

Reviewed by Jane T. Krebs on September 15, 2023

Dearborn: Stories
by Ghassan Zeineddine

  • Publication Date: September 5, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Tin House Books
  • ISBN-10: 1959030299
  • ISBN-13: 9781959030294