First Comes Marriage

First Comes Marriage

My Not-so-typical American Love Story

Book - 2018
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A candid, heartfelt love story set in contemporary California that challenges the idea of what it means to be American, liberated, and in love. When Huda meets Hadi, the boy she will ultimately marry, she is six years old. Both are the American-born children of Iraqi immigrants, who grew up on opposite ends of California. Hadi considers Huda his childhood sweetheart, the first and only girl he's ever loved, but Huda needs proof that she is more than just the girl Hadi's mother has chosen for her son. She wants what many other American girls have--the entertainment culture's almost singular tale of chance meetings, defying the odds, and falling in love. She wants stolen kisses, romantic dates, and a surprise proposal. As long as she has a grand love story, Huda believes no one will question if her marriage has been arranged. But when Huda and Hadi's conservative Muslim families forbid them to go out alone before their wedding, Huda must navigate her way through the despair of unmet expectations and dashed happily-ever-after ideals. Eventually she comes to understand the toll of straddling two cultures in a marriage and the importance of reconciling what you dreamed of with the life you eventually live. Tender, honest and irresistibly compelling, First Comes Marriage is the first Muslim-American memoir dedicated to the themes of love and sexuality. Huda and Hadi's story brilliantly circles around a series of firsts, chronicling two virgins moving through their first everything: first hand holding, first kiss, and first sexual encounter. First Comes Marriage is an almost unbearably humanizing tale that tucks into our hearts and lingers in our imagination, while also challenging long-standing taboos within the Muslim community and the romantic stereotypes we unknowingly carry within us that sabotage some of our best chances for finding true love.
Publisher: Amherst, New York : Promethus Books, 2018.
ISBN: 9781633884465
1633884465
Branch Call Number: B AL622
Characteristics: 297 pages ; 24 cm

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RandomLibrarian Dec 27, 2019

This memoir is about an Iraqi-American Shi'a couple. It is really at its best when Huda is with her parents and siblings; the love they share is obvious. Huda shows herself to the worst advantage in her interactions with her husband, particularly after they move to Mexico. She is an extrovert and loves big gatherings of family and friends and doesn't understand why her introvert husband doesn't act like she does or display his affection the way she wants him to. She seems to think he can read her mind and then gets so angry when he fails to live up to her (very high, "Hollywood movie romantic") expectations. It's not enough for him to love her, she also wants grand public gestures to prove it to those around her. His quiet patience with a wife that nitpicks him to death and does nothing but complain and blame him for the sum of her own life choices in the first years of marriage is truly amazing.

I read this book in one sitting, but found myself rather disappointed with Huda's constant demands on her husband and how she never seems to appreciate his steadfastness and patience with her, even when she's being terrible to him. She goes on and on about learning to love him after marriage, when there will be time and opportunity to fall in love, but I was left with the impression that she tolerates him. Obviously things have improved between them, as they are still married 20 years later, but I'm surprised he was willing to let her publish this book that aired all their private stuff from the early days of their marriage and that was an almost endless criticism of him, from the way he dressed to his introverted nature to the way nothing he did was ever right to her.

As mentioned, they are Shi'a Muslims, and this brings in some questionable acts for me as a Sunni. The very notion of praying to martyrs (the Shi'a equivalent of Catholic saints) is blasphemy and shirk (setting up partners with God, the greatest sin in Islam). There is no Islamic basis for the idea that "this martyr is closer to God than normal people, so I will pray to them so they will pray to God on my behalf". Islam doesn't have a concept of intercession this way; such behavior is an innovation in the religion, as is physically harming oneself (Huda and her mother slap themselves repeatedly during a Shi'a ritual in the month of Muharram).

This book makes for an interesting read and I found some parts to be quite lovely and communicate things well that aren't part of the typical white American experience, while others present a distorted view of Islam that is outside the majority norm.

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