Behind You Is the Sea: A Novel (Hardcover)
“Behind You Is the Sea fearlessly confronts stereotypes about Palestinian culture, weaving a remarkable portrait of life's intricate moments, from joyous weddings to heart-wrenching funerals, from shattered hearts to hidden truths—I wept and grew alongside this family. This is a story that challenges perceptions, offering a heartfelt glimpse into the interior lives of those who call this community home. A must read novel with unforgettable characters and an unwavering, fresh voice—I couldn’t put it down until the very last page! Darraj delivers an instant, necessary, and authentic classic to the cannon of Arab-American literature.”—Etaf Rum, author of Evil Eye and A Woman Is No Man
An exciting debut novel that gives voice to the diverse residents of a Palestinian American community in Baltimore—from young activists in conflict with their traditional parents to the poor who clean for the rich—lives which intersect across divides of class, generation, and religion.
Funny and touching, Behind You Is the Sea brings us into the homes and lives of three main families—the Baladis, the Salamehs, and the Ammars—Palestinian immigrants who’ve all found a different welcome in America.
Their various fates and struggles cause their community dynamic to sizzle and sometimes explode: The wealthy Ammar family employs young Maysoon Baladi, whose own family struggles financially, to clean up after their spoiled teenagers. Meanwhile, Marcus Salameh confronts his father in an effort to protect his younger sister for “dishonoring” their name. Only a trip to Palestine, where Marcus experiences an unexpected and dramatic transformation, can bridge this seemingly unbridgeable divide between the two generations.
Behind You Is the Sea faces stereotypes about Palestinian culture head-on and, shifting perspectives to weave a complex social fabric replete with weddings, funerals, broken hearts, and devastating secrets.
About the Author
Susan Muaddi Darraj is the author of A Curious Land, a novel in stories which earned an American Book Award and was a finalist for a Palestine Book Award. In 2018, she was named a Ford Fellow by USA Artists. A past winner of the Maryland State Art Council’s Independent Artist Award, she is also the author of Farah Rocks, the first children’s book series to feature a Palestinian-American character. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and teaches at Johns Hopkins University.
"[Behind You Is the Sea] fearlessly confronts stereotypes about Palestinian culture, weaving a remarkable portrait of life's intricate moments, from joyous weddings to heart-wrenching funerals, from shattered hearts to hidden truths—I wept and grew alongside this family. This is a story that challenges perceptions, offering a heartfelt glimpse into the interior lives of those who call this community home. A must read novel with unforgettable characters and an unwavering, fresh voice—I couldn’t put it down until the very last page! Darraj delivers an instant, necessary, and authentic classic to the cannon of Arab-American literature." — Etaf Rum, author of Evil Eye and A Woman Is No Man
"We desperately need more books like this in which Palestinian people are presented as beautiful, richly complex human beings, not consigned to insulting, diminishing references. Gratitude to Susan Muaddi Darraj for her very necessary, beautiful work." — Naomi Shihab Nye, award-winning poet and author of The Turtle of Michigan
"Susan Muaddi Darraj's Behind You is the Sea is a powerful and moving novel about the lives of Palestinian immigrants. Told in rich, lush prose, this propulsive and beautiful novel will stay with me for a long time. I loved it." — Brandon Hobson, National Book Award finalist and author of The Removed
"In this episodic debut novel, Darraj portrays the joys, resentments, and yearnings of three generations of a tight-knit Palestinian American community. . . . Marvelous and moving." — Booklist (starred review)
"Their homeland casts a heavy shadow in this poignant novel about Baltimore’s Palestinian immigrant community. Taken from a famous saying by legendary commander Tariq ibn Zayid, the title of Darraj’s novel aptly describes the situation facing her ensemble cast, which finds itself trapped between Old World expectations and the challenges of life in America. . . . [Stories are] masterfully choreographed in a book in which each chapter reads like a small masterpiece. . . . A moving portrait of Palestinian families caught between the pressures of the Old World and the New." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"[Behind You Is the Sea] is a shimmering composite portrait of a Palestinian American community in Baltimore. Across nine stellar linked stories, [Darraj] explores the complex relationships between characters divided by—or connected despite—class, language, and traditional values. . . . Darraj depicts the variety of immigrant and second-generation experience (especially women's), probing cultural and generational differences in a sensitive, life-affirming way. This compassionate novel-in-stories, set in a Palestinian American community, prioritizes the experiences of young women, and explores class and cultural divides that surround three families." — Shelf Awareness
"Muaddi Darraj brilliantly depicts complex characters reckoning with the costs of holding tightly to their principles. This is a beautiful portrait of a family reaching for their dreams while holding onto their roots." — Publishers Weekly
"Behind You Is the Sea sweeps readers along as its characters search for love, dignity, and belonging while carving out their own unique destinies. The result sometimes defies cultural tradition and risks deep losses, but these characters always land closer to their personal truths. With tenderness and fitting humor, Muaddi Darraj deftly weaves multiple Arab American voices into a resonant chorus of humanity." — Sahar Mustafah, author of The Beauty of Your Face
"With this unforgettable novel, Susan Muaddi Darraj assumes a unique place in American letters, her Palestinian sensibilities animating universal truths of the human condition. With gritty realism and poetic grace, she writes not simply of survival, but of dignity and flawed nobility in a world overflowing with cynicism and pain. From beginning to end, this novel-in-stories is filled with characters not easily forgotten, and the final story is, quite simply, one of the best that I have ever read. I am grateful for this book." — Frye Gaillard, author of A Hard Rain
"Not the Arabian Nights, but a new Arabian Days for our time, the intricately interlocked stories of Behind You Is the Sea bring us richly detailed news of the Palestinian immigrant experience in America (largely under-reported till now). Susan Muaddi Darraj has a keen ear and a gift for capturing the many different voices that compose her polyphony. She’s just as good at the nuances of cross-cultural interaction; this book will show you how different kinds of people can learn to get along, and also how they often don’t." — Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls’ Rising, Child of Light: A Biography of Robert Stone, and Behind the Moon
"In Behind You Is The Sea, multiple generations of a family confront stubborn, complicated truths while shouldering the burdensome weight of history. Susan Muaddi Darraj has fashioned a moving tale in which love, beauty, and life persist despite many injustices — indeed, despite everything." — Jabari Asim, author of Yonder
"Susan Muaddi Darraj's Behind You Is the Sea, a tale of the interwoven lives of Palestinian American families in Baltimore, Md., will get your heart racing and leave you sitting at the edge of your seat. Muaddi Darraj paints highly complex and authentic portraits of Arabs in America as they struggle with poverty, religion, living in between two cultures and the pursuit of the American Dream. This page-turner of a novel is an instant classic, and a welcome addition to the canon of writing on the Arab American experience." — Malaka Gharib, author of It Won't Always Be Like This and I Was Their American Dream
"Literature is slowly beginning to draw attention to the ways in which the socio-political America we know has created the beast of internalized colonization: a form of genocide and cruelty that continues to wreak havoc among cultures who predate the United States and those who come seeking fraudulent dreams. Behind You Is The Sea is a spellbinding, complexly simple examination of family, culture, and what it means to exist, what it means to be seen, and what it takes to make invisible visible. This novel will capture your heart and mind." — Morgan Talty, award-winning author of Night of the Living Rez
"Behind You Is the Sea is the perfect follow-up to A Curious Land. The town of Tel al-Hilou lives on in this short story collection, revisited through the lives of its inhabitants’ American-born relatives. Darraj teaches us that some conflicts take generations to heal and that, conversely, love can bloom when and where least expected. Bringing to life Palestinian lives at home and abroad, Susan Muaddi Darraj is building a literary legacy—depicting new challenges, concerns, and conflicts with the same masterfully deft hand." — Amina Gautier, Pen/Malamud Award winner and author of The Loss of All Lost Things
"Behind You Is the Sea is an achingly tender portrait of family and exile. The characters felt like family; even when they broke my heart, I was cheering them on. Muaddi Darraj explodes stereotypes and presents a window into Palestinian and Arab-American life that is refreshingly complex. Rarely have I seen an author tackle gender and class in Arab-American communities with such a deft hand." — Aisha Abdel Gawad, author of Between Two Moons
"Behind You Is the Sea illuminates the varieties of struggle, dignity, and steadfast courage in eight interconnected Palestinian-American characters as they seek the precarious balance between self and family, past and future, and their dreams in an America that never guarantees safety. Dogged by feuds, class struggles, and family politics, each believes that they must survive all on their own; yet their lives, like individual letters, come to form a vibrant, unforgettable novel about the complexities of this community....[Darraj] writes from a heart that is not divided between two cultures, but doubled—and her novel will swell your heart, too." — Sarah Cypher, author of The Skin and Its Girl
"There's a quiet power to Behind You Is the Sea that left me feeling a sense of awe. Susan Muaddi Darraj knows how to create a world of complex, rich emotions and unforgettable characters that live on beyond the last page. Darraj is simply one of our best." — Rion Amilcar Scott, author of The World Doesn't Require You
"Behind You Is the Sea not only hones in on the personal lives of Palestinian Americans but provides a commentary on juggling two different cultural identities, both old and young . . . [the novel] is sure to capture the readers' attention on the different multiplicities of Palestinian-American life and grapple with occupied identity in a land that professes freedom." — The New Arab