Angela Tehaan Leone, a McLean resident, is the daughter of first-generation Lebanese Americans. A prize-winning fiction writer, poet, and teacher of English and dramatic arts, she uses her skills and sensitivity to paint an exquisite portrait of a Lebanese immigrant family in Washington, DC in the 1950s.
Readers of all cultures will relate to the saga of tensions between the old and the new, the traditional and the contemporary. I was pulled into the story and experienced the deeply human dilemmas so richly and sumptuously portrayed. The dynamics unique to the Arab American family provide a riveting background for the struggle many immigrants face while attempting to balance their traditions with this new way of living and the openness in the “land of the free.”
The three older children in the family have liberated themselves by leaving home. The two youngest, Lottie and Irene, remain in the independence-stifling culture. They must endure their parents’ repressions and their Mama’s despotic regime. Mama is afraid of American ways and suspicious of two friendly neighbor women who encourage Irene, the youngest, to allow her beautiful singing voice to develop. Lottie, the older sister and narrator of the story, encourages Irene with her singing and with her hesitant steps toward a new friendship outside their own rigid culture. Irene is assured by her new friend that, to her amazement, God loves and sees her. Irene’s increasingly desperate behavior is not recognized by Mama’s stifling love and fierce determination to perpetuate the rigidly prescribed female roles.
With a clear-eyed energy and steadfast frankness born of personal observation, Leone’s touching debut novel carries the reader to a moving and heart rending conclusion.
Swimming Toward the Light – – A Novel
Angela Tehaan Leone
Syracuse University Press, 2007, cloth, $24.95, 200 pages