Him, Me, Muhammed Ali by Randa Jarrar: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

How do you unite short stories into an entire book? ''Him, Me, Muhammad Ali'' by Randa Jarrar does just that, weaving 13 stories together in this collection.

Him, Me, Muhammad Ali

Him, Me, Muhammad Ali is a 2016 book by author Randa Jarrar, an American author born in 1978 to Egyptian and Palestinian parents. This book is a collection of 13 unrelated short stories, showcasing Jarrar's range as an author.

So, what unites this collection together? How do you take a bunch of short stories and bring them into a cohesive whole? After all, these thirteen stories vary in tone and subject. In the story 'Grace', a young girl is kidnapped and ends up in a woman's commune, imagining her doll as the sister she lost. Contrast this to 'Testimony of Malik, Prisoner # 287690', in which authorities in Istanbul question a kestrel on suspicion of being an Israeli spy.

What brings these together is a focus on Muslim experiences around the world. The subjects of these stories are often displaced, either by physical space or generational gaps, and must constantly negotiate their place in the world and sense of self. There is a particularly strong focus on Muslim women and their relationships to family, religion, and self.

Summaries

There are 13 short stories in Jarrar's book:

  • 'The Lunatic's Eclipse'
  • 'Building Girls'
  • 'Lost in Freakin' Yonkers'
  • 'How Can I Be of Use to You?'
  • 'A Sailor'
  • 'Grace'
  • 'Testimony of Malik, Prisoner #287690'
  • 'Accidental Transients'
  • 'Asmahan'
  • 'Him, Me, Muhammad Ali'
  • 'The Story of My Building'
  • 'A Frame for the Sky'
  • 'The Life, Loves, and Adventures of Zelwa the Halfie'

We're not going to summarize all of these since that would take all day, but we will take a closer look at a few of the most popular stories in this collection.

The Lunatic's Eclipse

The story begins with nine-year-old Qamar, a girl living in Alexandria who is in love with her 24-year-old neighbor. He tells her he'll love her if she gets the moon, which she takes seriously. On the advice of her neighbors, she tries to stay awake for ten days and almost makes it, but does end up with a story in the newspaper that she made the moon disappear. That story is seen by young genius Hilal, who as a boy tried to catch a reflection of the moon in a fishing net.

Qamar becomes a ballerina, but at 15 her parents die on their way to her performance (the drivers of the van that hit them were looking at the lunar eclipse). Feeling guilty, she starts performing dangerous tightrope stunts without a net in a circus. The absurd risks increase after she finds out her parent's last wish was for her to marry a man she doesn't love.

Hilal sees Qamar performing and becomes obsessed. Eventually they meet and he tells her he's building a rocket. This is true, and since he's such an accomplished student, he's been given permission to do this. Qamar eventually tells him she's getting married, and he offers to take her to the moon instead. At the end of the story, Hilal rushes to Qamar with his rocket on the back of his truck, she sees him and leaps out the window, balancing on clotheslines as she works her way towards him. Her neighbors ask what she's doing, and she replies that she wants the moon and knows how to get it this time.

Asmahan

The narrator of the story is in a car driving through the crowded streets of Cairo with her sister Soraya and their daughters, Marwa and Reema, respectively. They are on their way to a party celebrating the fifth anniversary of a woman's magazine Soraya founded, Asmahan. A girl darts in front of the car, and Soraya runs her over.

The girl's name is Shireen, and her legs are badly hurt. The women take Shireen and her sister, Fatma, to a hospital, worried about what will happen. Fatma worries how her father will respond; they weren't supposed to be in the city that day.

As Shireen is seen by doctors, Soraya and the narrator talk and reflect. Soraya is very fashionable but wears a hijab in a pact she made with God to save Reema, who was born premature and sick. The narrator reflects on her own postpartum she had suffered after Marwa was born.

In Shireen's hospital room, the women and their daughters ask to be her ladies-in-waiting, and a groggy Shireen asks for a doll. The narrator buys one that night in the market without haggling for it, but in the morning finds that Soraya had bought a nicer one. Shireen is happy to take both dolls.

The doctor eventually announces that Shireen will be okay but will need rest and physical therapy in her village. The narrator, Soraya, and their daughters cheer from the balcony as Shireen and Fatma watch in amusement. On the cautious drive home, the narrator reminisces on a time when she and Soraya were children, and she said she didn't believe in God.

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