All Strangers Are Kin: Adventures in Arabic and the Arab World


Summary

“The shaddais the key difference between a pigeon (hamam) and a bathroom (hammam). Be careful, our professor advised, in the first moment of outright humor in class, that you don’t ask a waiter, ‘Excuse me, where is the pigeon?’ — or, conversely, order a roasted toilet.”

If you’ve ever studied a foreign language, you know what happens when you first truly and clearly communicate with another person. As Zora O’Neill recalls, you feel like a magician. If that foreign language is Arabic, you just might feel like a wizard.

They say that Arabic takes seven years to learn and a lifetime to master. O’Neill had put in her time. Steeped in grammar tomes and outdated textbooks, she faced an increasing certainty that she was not only failing to master Arabic, but also driving herself crazy. She took a decade-long hiatus, but couldn’t shake her fascination with the language or the cultures it had opened up to her. So she decided to jump back in—this time with a new approach.

Join O’Neill for a grand tour through the Middle East. You will laugh with her in Egypt, delight in the stories she passes on from the United Arab Emirates, and find yourself transformed by her experiences in Lebanon and Morocco. She’s packed her dictionaries, her unsinkable sense of humor, and her talent for making fast friends of strangers. From quiet, bougainvillea-lined streets to the lively buzz of crowded medinas, from families’ homes to local hotspots, she brings a part of the world that is thousands of miles away right to your door.  

A natural storyteller with an eye for the deeply absurd and the deeply human, O’Neill explores the indelible links between culture and communication. A powerful testament to the dynamism of language, All Strangers Are Kin reminds us that learning another tongue leaves you rich with so much more than words.

Rights

North American publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 2016

Foreign rights: The Marsh Agency

Camilla Ferrier (Camilla@marsh-agency.co.uk) for Arabic World, Bulgaria, China, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Italy*, Japan, The Netherlands**, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam

Jemma McDonagh (Jemma@marsh-agency.co.uk) for Baltic States, Brazil, Croatia, Czech Rupublic, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy**, Korea, The Netherlands*, Poland, Romania, Scandinavia, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovak Republic, Turkey

*Fiction
**Non-fiction

Film rights: Gillian MacKenzie (gmackenzie@gillianmackenzie.com)

Reviews

“At a time when politics dominates our view of the Middle East, O’Neill has found a different port of entry: the language. An enthusiastic and resourceful student of Arabic, O’Neill captures both the richness of the language and the ways in which it allows an outsider to connect with common people all the way from Morocco to the Persian Gulf.” —Peter Hessler, author of Country Driving, Oracle Bones, and others

"In her engaging, colloquial account, freelance and travel writer O'Neill recounts how, at the age of 39, just after the events of the Arab Spring, she decided to return to Egypt and take up a more vernacular approach to studying Arabic rather than approaching it 'as if it were a dead language'...A valiant chronicle of the author's 'Year of Speaking Arabic Badly.'" —Kirkus Reviews

"O’Neill doesn’t teach readers to be fluent in Arabic, but she imparts a more valuable lesson on how (and how not) to learn a language, and the journey is more fascinating than the result." —Publishers Weekly

“O’Neill is a wonderful writer, a hakawati who can spin a tale with the best of them.” —Rabih Alameddine, author of The Hakawati and An Unnecessary Woman

"Part travelogue, part Bildungsroman, part ethnography, this work is as intricate and nuanced as the Arabic language itself. O'Neill masterfully weaves together vignettes, linguistic musings, and a colorful cast of thousands into an always-thoughtful, often hysterically funny paean to a part of the world about which most Americans remain woefully ignorant." —Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

“Let O’Neill take you by the hand and lead you on this dazzling journey through the word factory. You will travel through countries and across centuries, meeting professors and poets, revolutionaries, nomads, and nerds. O’Neill’s generous storytelling makes the intricacies of Arabic grammar seem fascinating and inexplicably glamorous. And the most unforgettable character you encounter may be the Arabic language itself, which will feel like an old friend by the time you finish this warm and hilarious book.” —Annia Ciezadlo, author of Day of Honey

“Wry, witty, and charmingly erudite, this lovely book goes through the looking glass of the Arabic language and emerges with a radiant image of the Arab world.” —Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Life Without a Recipe, Crescent, The Language of Baklava, and others

“O'Neill is the perfect travel companion: smart, curious, witty and knowledgeable. In times when the news out of the Middle East is too often grim, she finds warmth and humor. By refusing to tread along the same paths that so many news reporters are confined to, she reveals to us rich new possibilities for understanding—all in a deceptively breezy tone.” —Carla Power, author of National Book Award Finalist If the Oceans Were Ink