Exile and the Disabled Body in Randa Jarrar’s “The Life, Loves, and Adventures of Zelwa the Halfie”

Shahd Alshammari, Gulf University for Science and Technology, Kuwait
Yasmeen Al-Askari, Independent Academic, Kuwait
Published: August 25, 2021

Citation: Alshammari, S., & Al-Askari, Y. (2021). Exile and the Disabled Body in Randa Jarrar’s "The Life, Loves, and Adventures of Zelwa the Halfie". IAFOR Journal of Arts & Humanities, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.22492/ijah.8.1.05


This paper seeks to analyse the notion of exile as one of paradox, of being both within and without, as a disconnect between the mind and body. Edward Said has noted that exile is “strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience”. Said’s suggestion of a mind/body split gives us room to consider the sense of self as already in-between, as the exiled ‘I’ attempts to find a home within a new land and a new body. Exile from one’s own homeland is also exile from one’s body in Arab-American author’s Randa Jarrar’s latest novel Him, Me, and Muhamad Ali (2016). The collection of stories moves away from reclamatory approaches to ethnic identity and examines the characters’ trajectories of selfhood through a gendered, racialized, and embodied image. Disability features as a site of tension, a site of interrogation of Zelwa’s (the protagonist) sense of self. It is a peculiar coming-of-age narrative in the sense that it is an anti-Bildungsroman, a probe into bodies that fail to be integrated, assimilated, or acclimated to American culture, while also failing to maintain their association with an Arab collective identity. Jarrar’s text underscores and redefines the “I” of the Arab immigrant exploring transgenerational trauma and reclaiming her identity through celebrating the body.

Keywords: Arab women’s literature, body, disability, identity