Author: Luma Mufleh

Category: Biographies & Memoirs

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Deal starts: February 15, 2024

Deal ends: February 15, 2024

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In her coming-of-age memoir, refugee advocate Luma Mufleh writes of her tumultuous journey to reconcile her identity as a gay Muslim woman and a proud Arab-turned-American refugee.With no word for “gay” in Arabic, Luma may not have known what to call the feelings she had growing up in Jordan during the 1980s, but she knew well enough to keep them secret. It was clear that not only would her family have trouble accepting her, but trapped in a conservative religious society, she could’ve also been killed if anyone discovered her sexuality. Luma spent her teenage years increasingly desperate to find a way out, and finally found one when she was accepted into college in the United States. Once there, Luma begins the ago­nizing process of applying for political asylum, which ensures her safety—but causes her family to break ties with her.Becoming a refugee in America is a rude awakening, and Luma must rely on the grace of friends and strangers alike as she builds a new life and finally embraces her full self. Slowly, she’s able to forge a new path forward with both her biological and chosen families, eventually founding Fugees Family, a nonprofit dedicated to the education and support of refu­gee children in the United States.As hopeful as it is heartrending, From Here is a coming-of-age memoir about one young woman’s search for belonging and the many meanings of home for those who must leave theirs.

Review Praise for From Here:A 2024 Finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in NonfictionA 2023 Kirkus Best BookA 2023 Publishers Weekly Best BookA 2023 School Library Journal Best BookA 2023 New York Public Library Best Book for TeensA Shondaland.com Best Book for May 2023? "This is a must-add to any high school biography/memoir section. ­Mufleh’s story is one of strength and courage, and shines light on the injustices in our world…She adeptly balances the luxury of her experience in Jordan with the conflict she often felt as a gay Muslim woman. It weaves together experiences from Muslim faith, being gay and not accepted by family, immigration, and the Middle East. …You need to put this one on your high school shelf now, but it won’t stay there long.” —School Library Journal, starred review  ? “A powerful, honest account of an activist’s experiences of being gay in a culture she loves but in which it’s hard to see a place for herself. . . Mufleh’s raw descriptions of finding her place in the world are relatable: Questions of choosing between living your truth or your family’s will speak to readers of many backgrounds. . . Mufleh’s journey shows that acceptance and reconciliation are possible and that those we love can grow and learn. . . A poignant glimpse into human imperfections and the struggle to find one’s place in the world.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review? “This affecting memoir by refugee advocate Mufleh (Learning America) chronicles her internal struggle to reconcile her identity as a gay Arab Muslim woman. Via clear-eyed prose…this poignant reflection on choice, family, and living one’s truth provides insight into Mufleh’s relationship with her heritage, and how these experiences helped shape her identity and advocacy work.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review“Activist and author Luma Mufleh masters the beauty of vulnerability in her latest memoir, From Here. Growing up in Jordan … Mufleh had to hide the person she was becoming, especially as she grappled with her attraction toward women. Mufleh understood that if anyone found out she was a lesbian, her life could be in danger. When she’s accepted into college in the United States, Mufleh leaves Jordan and has to carve out a difficult new path as a refugee, finding support through friends who eventually became like family.” —Shondaland.com “Mufleh details fears Arab women constantly encounter…[s]he methodically shares her struggles with coming out to her family and coming to terms with sexual abuse. Readers will admire Mufleh’s courage to fight for her own rights and her dedication to helping others…This story is a reminder that we have the right to live how we want and love who we want.” —Booklist Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. Prologue A Question “Is your dad dead?” Leila doesn’t make eye contact. Her five-year-old legs stretch out over mine. We’re still in pajamas, our labneh-smeared plates stacked by the sink. The kitchen floor beneath us is cold after a long winter. Her question is a gut-punch. “No.” I clear my throat and turn her face to mine. “Why would you ask me that?” “Because we only talk to Taytay and Namo and Khalo,” she says, meaning her grandmother, aunt, and uncles. “We just don’t talk to each other,” I offer, already knowing it won’t be enough. “Why?” Emily had warned me this might happen. Leila had been asking questions, she said, maybe I should be ready for them. But how do you tell your daughter that some families, in fact, disown their daughters? That mine did it twice? That you can still love a country even when it does not love you back? If there are answers to these questions, I don’t know them. So I go with something simple. “Because he doesn’t understand me.” I work my fingers through her hair, tangled from the kind of deep sleep I must have had once. “He doesn’t like that I married Mommy.” “Why doesn’t he like Mommy? Everyone loves Mommy.” Leila’s eyes narrow like she’s ready for a fight. I’ve said the wrong thing. “In Jordan, two women can’t get married.” “What would happen to you?” “I’d probably be killed.” “But you said Jordan is beautiful!” “It is beautiful, Leiloushti.” Leila goes quiet. Next to us, my phone is dark. I imagine my mother in Amman, waiting by her own phone, halos of cigarette smoke around her sunny-brown hair. It’s been half a dozen years since she and my father moved from the palatial estate of my childhood and into an apartment nearby, more appropriate for the two of them and their small staff. I will likely never see the room that she waits in for our calls, but I can picture her fussed-over houseplants, the throbbing reds and blues of the Persian rug at her feet. I think about what Leila knows: about the time my cousin Omar and I drank the “magic potions” we made from our uncle’s chemistry set, how my grandmother rushed us to the hospital so quickly she forgot to put on her hijab. I’ve told her about sneaking the car out when I was eight years old and crashing it into a tree. I’ve explained all the Muslim holidays to her, the best pastries for Eid, what it’s like to float in the Dead Sea. She’s learned how to cook using her nose. She’s heard about the soccer games in the streets, about the two tortoises we used for goalposts and how they would wander off midgame. She knows about the pistachio rolled ice cream that I ate with my cousins during Amman’s endless summers. I think about what Leila doesn’t know: The suicide attempts. The policeman pointing a gun at the back of my head. My first sexual experience, a terrible secret with a much older woman. The honor killings. The asylum hearings and weeks spent alone and shivering on a Greyhound bus. Emily’s and my wedding, when not a single member of my family showed up. All the years I would call home, only to hear the click of the dial tone. The parts of my story I’ve left out to protect my daughter’s innocence, the version of the world I would like her to live in. I take a deep breath. “Do you want to talk to Jiddo?” Leila’s body stiffens against mine. She calls my bluff. She doesn’t even hesitate. “Yes!” she says with the enviable confidence of a child. I don’t want to stand in the way of her getting to know her grandfather. I want her to believe that all people are good. I want to believe the same thing.--- Technically, the last time I spoke to my father was seven years before that morning on the kitchen floor. Before Leila, before the new house and school in Columbus. In many ways my father and I were strangers to each other even then, still navigating a tense reconciliation after our first seven years of silence. I asked Emily to marry me in Illinois, conspiring with her family to surprise her. Her sister scattered Ring Pops—I had always threatened to propose with one—like rose petals along the sidewalk that led to Emily’s favorite breakfast joint. It was a Midwestern April, bright and wet. The ground soaked through the knee of my pants; the sun burned my eyes as I looked up at her. “Did you say yes?” I asked, practically panting, my face pressed against Emily’s shoulder. “Did you ask anything?” she teased. I didn’t know if I had. The restaurant was full of relatives and friends—when Emily saw them, she put her hands over her heart, her curls swung with wild laughter. We collected hugs and clinked glasses and reveled in the hours made, it seemed, just for us. Even her divorced parents set aside old resentments for the morning. Looking at them, I wondered how I could be so good at mending other people’s families, but never mine. Amid so much joy, that familiar loneliness found me; all I could see were empty chairs where my own family should have been. Later, in the quiet of her mother’s guest bedroom, Emily wanted to know if I had told my parents about our engagement yet. “You always think worst-case scenario,” she said. I didn’t know how to tell her that the scenarios I thought about were so much worse now that her feelings were at stake. In the email to my parents the next day, I wrote, I know this is hard for you to hear, because this is not what you expected for your daughter. But I have never been happier, and I hope I can have your blessings. Even though I also wrote, I haven’t told anyone else in the family—I want to share it with you first, it was my brother who called a few days later, after Emily and I had returned home to Atlanta. “How could you do this?” he asked, and I wondered which part he thought was more audacious: that I had fallen in love or that I expected anybody to be happy for me. “Couldn’t you wait until they died?” “Until they died? Seriously, Ali? That’s the best you’ve got?” I raged at him. I smacked the steering wheel of my parked car, baking in the Georgia sun. “And she’s Jewish!” “Jews and Muslims have a lot in common. We don’t eat pig—” “This is not funny.” “It is a little funny,” I taunted. “Why are you doing this?” “The same reason you did it. We’re in love. We’re going to have kids.” “Kids? Are you crazy? You can’t have kids.” “Why? Because she’s a woman? Or because she’s Jewish?” “Just don’t expect them to call you,” he warned. “Kul kharah,” I told him. Eat shit. We hung up on each other. Months later, in a hotel room in California, where Emily and I were looking at wedding venues, my mother’s number appeared on my cell phone. “Answer it!” Emily urged, a wellspring of hope. She perched on the edge of the bed during the call, smiling and searching my eyes as if they might translate Arabic into something she could understand. “Well! What did she say?” “She said that it’s hot there.” My mother continued to call me to report on the weather, a heat wave or a cloudy day. Before the wedding, and after. After Leila was born, then Zeina, then Yazan. When the girls were old enough, we began our Saturday morning video chats. She never mentioned the email. Looking back now, I can see that her phone calls were her way of being there for me in the only way she knew how. Those mundane calls were a radical defiance. She was still there.--- My father never responded. My mother’s Saturday is seven hours ahead of ours. She looks elegant as always, and I’m sure the tag in her shirt says dry clean only. I try not to glance at my own tiny portrait in the corner of the screen. My T-shirt. My disheveled hair. I know my mother won’t say anything; she doesn’t need to. “Mama, is Baba there?” “Seriously?” A wide Syrian smile spreads across my mother’s face. “Yes, get Baba.” She is replaced by a tilted view of the ceiling. I give Leila a squeeze. She bounces in excitement. Emily is nearby. I can feel her listening. A commotion of light flashes across the screen, and then my father’s face materializes in my outstretched hand. My mother’s after that. I have seen pictures of him during the silence. When my mom or sister sends photos of vacations, family gatherings, or weddings, sometimes my father’s face appears in them like a phantom. It has always made me feel numb, as if I am looking at a person I have met but whose name I don’t remember. Now, before me, I can see how much older he has gotten. Thinner, though, maybe even healthier. There’s a new beard. I’m not sure how I feel about it. “Baba, this is Leila—” “I’m Leila!” she interjects. I don’t know if she is rescuing me or simply unable to restrain herself. I move my face out of frame. “I know! Hello, Leila!” The three of them gaze at one another for long, happy seconds. “I have a brother and a sister,” she announces. “I know, habibti.” I search my memory for a smile this big on my father’s face. I turn up nothing. “Today we are going to the park, and maybe swimming.” “You know how to swim?” “Yes, Mama taught me and Zeina how to swim. We love to swim. Do you know how to swim?” “Yes, I like to swim.” My chest is tight, and my throat is dry. “Okay, we have to go now,” I manage with what I hope might pass as a cheerful tone. When the screen goes dark, Leila, satisfied, jumps off my lap, ready to find her younger sister and share the happy news—they have another grandpa. “Are you okay?” Emily asks. She’s tucking chairs under the kitchen table. “I’m fine.” If anyone knows about my powers of compartmentalization, it’s Emily. “Time to get ready! Socks and shoes! Who wants cinnamon rolls?” Both girls appear in the doorway, each trying to be louder than the other: “I do!” “How many cinnamon rolls today, Zeina?” “Forty-four.” She grins, ready for our game. “How about one hundred and forty-four?” Zeina is becoming something of a folk hero in our neighborhood, downing huge cinnamon rolls like mere dinner mints. We gather jackets, wrestle with the stroller. A few minutes later we are a brigade of sneakers and mismatched socks, marching to the bakery. I try to forget my father’s face, to push it down deep and hide it, like I always do. I try to tuck the past away in its assigned compartment and rejoin the present moment. But as we walk, my mind is racing, and I know that, at some point, I will have to tell Leila everything. She will never truly understand herself if she doesn’t know her family’s history and the complexity of her identity. If she does not know about the scars, the strength, and resiliency she has inherited. As I watch my children wolf down their pastries, I am overwhelmed with all the things I need to tell them. What has shaped me and what has saved me, and how I found purpose, belonging, and home in the most unexpected places. This is what I want them to know. --This text refers to the hardcover edition. About the Author Luma Mufleh is the founder of Fugees Family, with schools now in Georgia and Ohio and an expanding footprint, bringing educational equity to refugee resettlement communities across America. Her TED Talk on educational justice for refugee families was viewed more than 1.8 million times. --This text refers to the hardcover edition.