When Hannah accompanies her husband and small children to Jerusalem for the year, she becomes fascinated with a group of expat women at her son's daycare, as well as a young Palestinian woman named Jenna. As she grows close to Jenna she starts to question her own marriage and her relationship to Israel. A novel of domestic and political ambivalence, Arabic for Beginners is about marriage, motherhood, friendship, nation, and the complicated ways we think of home. It is the winner of the J. I. Segal 2018 Mona Elaine Adilman English Fiction and Poetry Award on a Jewish Theme.
About the author
Ariela Freedman was born in Brooklyn and has lived in Jerusalem, New York, Calgary, London, and Montreal. She has a Ph.D. from New York University and teaches literature at Concordia’s Liberal Arts College in Montreal, where she lives with her family. Her debut, Arabic for Beginners (LLP, 2017), was shortlisted for the QWF Concordia University First Book Prize and won the 2018 J. I. Segal Prize for Fiction. Her second novel, A Joy To Be Hidden (LLP, 2019), was shortlisted for the Segal Prize in 2020, and was a finalist for the The Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction.
"A quiet and exquisite portrait of a group of mothers in Israel. Freedman brilliantly captures the existential and alienated state that mothers of young children inhabit. Freedman's work is reminiscent of Rachel Cusk and Deborah Levy.” “Heather O—Neill, author of Lullabies for Little Criminals "In Arabic for Beginners Ariela Freedman brings to life the kaleidoscopic contradictions and painful paradoxes of life in contemporary Israel/Palestine. As insightful as it is absorbing, Arabic for Beginners brings into sharp relief a young mother's sabbatical year in Jerusalem in the era of the Gaza war. A story of complicated friendships, marriages on the brink, and ambivalence writ large, this is a brave, intelligent and impressive literary debut." — Elaine Kalman Naves, author of The Book of Faith "Delicately observed and strikingly funny, Ariela Freedman's Arabic for Beginners captures the everyday mystery behind adult friendship. This account of a Canadian family's year in Israel is a study of tensions both national and interpersonal, and of the reasons relationships survive or fade away. Freedman's subtle, graceful prose spans the large and the small, the wondrous and the quotidian, as it explores the question of how certain places—and certain people—come to feel like home." — Abigail Deutsch, winner, Shattuck Prize for Criticism