Desert Isle Keeper
First Comes Marriage: My Not-So-Typical American Love Story
Sweet, candid and poignant First Comes Marriage: My Not-So-Typical American Love Story is part biography, part love story, part cultural narrative and altogether delightful. This charming tale of love not-so-American style does a fabulous job of introducing readers to the idea that not all romances must follow the path pushed upon us by Hollywood.
I wasn’t the trope of an immigrant’s kid, prepared to reject her family’s traditions in order to fit into mainstream culture
Huda Al-Marashi assures us as she takes us through the history of her atypical (for America) marriage.
The important thing, her mother had raised her to believe, is to marry a good person, someone who shares your culture and religion, and then you’ll fall in love with him later. To her and her family there were two types of boys in the world – those who were possible to marry and those who were impossible – the Ridha boys belonged to the former, the small population of boys from which I would be allowed to pick a husband. That’s the reason she cannot remember a time when I did not think of Hadi Ridha as husband material .
However, Huda’s culture had not prepared her for the difficulties of meshing two worlds – the traditional Iraqi one of her immigrant parents and the far more freewheeling, romance rich America she was growing up in.
Deep down I wanted to marry the Iraqi Shia boy that would make my parents proud which meant following the custom of couples who had barely known each other when they wed, couples who had been introduced via photographs or paired together from within the same clan; But she didn’t just want to follow tradition, she wanted a love story with the Iraqi, Shia man of my dreams. I wanted to be a Wakefield sister who found her Tarek at Sweet Valley High, a Scarlett O’Hara who met her Raheem without the deprivation of war, a Juliet who lived into old age with her Rumi. I didn’t need a string of boyfriends or affairs—just one grand, sweeping love story so fantastic that it was worth a lifetime of romantic adventures.
Those conflicting desires lead to Huda and Hadi’s exploits in doing the seemingly impossible – dating halal (permissible under Islamic law) style.
It’s also Huda’s journey through figuring out the difference between culture, religion and personal convictions. She moves through a labyrinth of these issues as she navigates through her own feelings for Hadi. Her delight at his familiarity; her anger at his conservative religious views which put a damper on their romance. Being frustrated with his fashion sense; falling in love with his gentle patience. Her mother’s joy at having her marry someone whose family are their friends; her own feelings of conflict between marriage and living a typical American young adulthood. Even the simplest things become points of conflict. Both Huda and Hadif feel sexual desire, but inexperience means there is frustration surrounding sex after they are married – the physical act has them feeling less like lovers and more like two naked co-workers assigned to the same project. There is also the discomfort Huda feels due to the cultural restrictions which had guided her as a young unmarried woman and which leave lingering feelings of guilt and wrongdoing even after they are wed.
Throughout it all, Huda shows us that a different way of being can be every bit as fulfilling as our own Western way of doing things. I especially appreciated the sincere love Huda had for her culture and faith. Too often, first generation love stories pushed upon us in the media involve completely embracing of the American way of doing things. Those tend to be exceptions, not the rule. In this case, Huda understood what made her own people special and was a true, proud believer of Islam. The romance portion of the novel also delighted me; hearing about what made ‘arranged’ marriage an equally solid – if also equally flawed – choice was wonderful. Listening to someone talk through the reality of marriage – that youthful love at some point realizes that the building of a family is hard work – was refreshing. The narrative is made all the more mesmerizing by the intelligent, passionate, fiery, traditional voice of our author, who deftly combines humor and heartache into a tale well worth reading.
First Comes Marriage was a complete joy to read. Anyone interested in taking a look at love through a unique, different lens definitely needs to pick this up. It’s a charming story, made all the more touching because it’s real.