Arwa El Masri’s memoir touches on a tricky topic: how it is possible to embrace a new culture without losing one’s own. It’s also about family connections in different countries, food, friendship … and her unlikely love story with husband Hazem El Masri, a well-known rugby league player. Her narrative is direct and appeals to the readers’ feelings – and stomachs as well! Expect your mouth to water with the wonderful collection of recipes, both Arabic and Australian, scattered throughout the book.
Through her writing, Arwa comes across as a deeply religious Muslim woman, but she doesn’t pass judgement on those who are not. With enormous grace and simplicity, she explains and demystifies commonly-held beliefs on what it means to be raised Muslim. She also gives a new insight into what it is to be married to a sports star (being labelled a WAG doesn’t sit down very well with her, nor does her any justice). Arwa writes with insight about being a Palestinian with no land to call home, yet touches, too, on her gradual realisation that Australia was slowly getting under her skin (Vegemite, Lamingtons and John Farnham helped, although not necessarily in that order!) . She also chronicles her day-to-day experiences in Australian society and her decision to, as a newlywed at the age of 23, to wear the veil. However, and considering that Arwa is an outspoken Social Science graduate from the University of Western Sydney, I would have welcomed her thoughts on the Cronulla riots as well.
Dolores’ verdict: The first seven chapters are a magnificent read, give us a wonderfully vivid picture of two different cultures and the family photos add an extra layer of interest. All those yummy recipes should have been published together for the readers’ convenience – or perhaps as an unconventional recipe book, photos included! It would have been interesting to read about her experiences in the workplace, too, given that there can be different layers of discrimination. All in all, though, I found Tea with Arwa a must-read memoir on family, culture, food and religious beliefs.