The Wrong End of the Table: A Mostly Comic Memoir of a Muslim Arab American Woman Just Trying to Fit in by Ayser Salman
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An Immigrant Love-Hate Story of What it Means to Be American
You know that feeling of being at the wrong end of the table? Like you’re at a party but all the good stuff is happening out of earshot (#FOMO)? That’s life—especially for an immigrant.
What happens when a shy, awkward Arab girl with a weird name and an unfortunate propensity toward facial hair is uprooted from her comfortable (albeit fascist-regimed) homeland of Iraq and thrust into the cold, alien town of Columbus, Ohio—with its Egg McMuffins, Barbie dolls, and kids playing doctor everywhere you turned?
This is Ayser Salman’s story. First comes Emigration, then Naturalization, and finally Assimilation—trying to fit in among her blonde-haired, blue-eyed counterparts, and always feeling left out. On her journey to Americanhood, Ayser sees more naked butts at pre-kindergarten daycare that she would like, breaks one of her parents’ rules (“Thou shalt not participate as an actor in the school musical where a male cast member rests his head in thy lap”), and other things good Muslim Arab girls are not supposed to do. And, after the 9/11 attacks, she experiences the isolation of being a Muslim in her own country. It takes hours of therapy, fifty-five rounds of electrolysis, and some ill-advised romantic dalliances for Ayser to grow into a modern Arab American woman who embraces her cultural differences.
Part memoir and part how-not-to guide, The Wrong End of the Table is everything you wanted to know about Arabs but were afraid to ask, with chapters such as “Tattoos and Other National Security Risks,” “You Can’t Blame Everything on Your Period; Sometimes You’re Going to Be a Crazy Bitch: and Other Advice from Mom,” and even an open letter to Trump. This is the story of every American outsider on a path to find themselves in a country of beautiful diversity.
I will never look at footnotes the same again (See Below). I LOVED the humor and authenticity of The Wrong End of the Table and the quirky, hilarious subtext of the footnotes from the publisher making comments to her mother needing her to include a disclaimer on a particular family story. I connected immediately with the longing to belong in the ever-present cliques of our youth and related to her many attempts to get a foot in the door in already seemingly solid friendship circles and in all aspects of life.
The Wrong End of the Table was a joy to read in its entirety, getting a glimpse inside this unique nomad experience. Ayser was constantly moving to remote locations that had polar opposite cultures and dynamics from a small town in the US to Saudi Arabia and back. It was interesting to witness how each impacted her differently during her different life stages. Her changing priorities as she grew up creating a unique perspective at each new location.
For example, she might have been able to appreciate the all girls school in Saudi Arabia when she was still too young to care for the opposite sex, but then when she got hurt she realized the annoyance of her mom having to call a taxi to take them to the hospital because women couldn't drive in that country and her father was at work. Ayser is extremely self-reflective and continuously displayed a complete picture making you feel like you were a part of her story. This piece of the book became my favorite because even in this particular scenario she found joy in the quality time that was created because her dad now had to drive her back and forth to the multiple follow up checkups soon after her accident.
I took this book along with a dozen others on my latest vacation and this one had me skipping an excursion or two in order to continuing reading. It became my favorite by far. It was sincere, entertaining, and transported me all over the world. Ayser poured out her heart and revealed her secret dreams, her struggles, some advice not to lie and drive, and much more!