Book Review: Tales of adventure — in the Arabic tongue

“All Strangers Are Kin” is a compelling and colorful memoir. (Shutterstock)
Updated 24 December 2018
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Book Review: Tales of adventure — in the Arabic tongue

  • “All Strangers Are Kin” is a compelling and colorful memoir
  • Writer Zora O'Neill argues that the Arabic language is not only a tool to read, write and speak, but is also a connection

BEIRUT: In “All Strangers Are Kin” — winner of the 2017 Society of American Travel Writers Lowell Thomas award for best travel book — Zora O’Neill argues that the Arabic language is not only a tool to read, write and speak, but is also a connection.

The book, now available in a paperback edition, focuses on the Arab world, but ignores wars and political conflicts. Instead, it deals with Arabic, the world’s fifth most popular language, and its everyday use to tell stories, sing songs, make jokes and talk with friends.

O’Neill believes that we can communicate just by listening and nodding and saying thank you from the heart.

“My aim in this book is to bring average people in the Arab world to your attention. I want you to imagine what their lives might be like,” she writes.

Like most foreigners, O’Neill studied written Arabic, known as “Fusha.” Written Arabic is used from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, while spoken Arabic consists of dozens of dialects.

After O’Neill obtained a master’s degree in Arabic, she realized that she could understand a poem composed in the sixth century but was hardly able to have a conversation with her landlord in Cairo.

In 2007, after returning to Egypt to update a guidebook, she began studying Arabic again, focusing on spoken Arabic and “interacting with people, not books.”

O’Neill embarked on four successive trips to countries representing the main dialects in the Arab world — Egypt, the UAE, Lebanon and Morocco.

The fun starts the day she arrives in Cairo. On her way from the airport, she hears the taxi driver telling a pedestrian: “Ya gamoosa” (“Move it, you water buffalo”).

“All Strangers Are Kin” is a compelling and colorful memoir. O’Neill’s tales of adventure are woven with glimpses of her daily life and thoughts on the Arabic language that run through the narrative like a mantra.


What We Are Reading Today: The Fate of Rome

Updated 23 March 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: The Fate of Rome

Author: Kyle Harper

Here is the monumental retelling of one of the most consequential chapters of human history: The fall of the Roman Empire. The Fate of Rome is the first book to examine the catastrophic role that climate change and infectious diseases played in the collapse of Rome’s power — a story of nature’s triumph over human ambition.
Interweaving a grand historical narrative with cutting-edge climate science and genetic discoveries, Kyle Harper traces how the fate of Rome was decided not just by emperors, soldiers, and barbarians but also by volcanic eruptions, solar cycles, climate instability, and devastating viruses and bacteria.
He takes readers from Rome’s pinnacle in the second century, when the empire seemed an invincible superpower, to its unraveling by the 7th century, when Rome was politically fragmented and materially depleted, says a review on the Princeton University Press website. Harper describes how the Romans were resilient in the face of enormous environmental stress, until the besieged empire could no longer withstand the combined challenges of a “little ice age” and recurrent outbreaks of bubonic plague.