Coming to Astoria is a humorous "coming of age" tale. This is Omar's personal experience with fights, beatings, hardships, and true love. A nine year old trying to get accepted into the community. An eleven year old trying to earn a few dollars by shining shoes in New York City bars. Experience what it's like for a sixteen year old to get the better of a sexual predator. Ride the New York City subways as pan handlers, con artists, and gangs, ride along with you and try to ply their trade. Experience a romance as it blossoms into a loving relationship, thus ending Omar's long search for a loving home.

Sampling of reviews from Amazon readers:

It took me less than a day to read this book I couldn't put it down I felt sad that the parents were so unfeeling all children need to feel loved I guess that's why the siblings more or less didnt feel inclined to be in touch with each other and went their seperate ways I'm glad Omar has a wonderful wife and family hamdullallah - Che

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It put me into the time and place with an immigrant family and even moreso, into the childhood of the author. You can feel the mood, hear the conversations, experience the little joys and appreciate the opportunities they had in America. - Reader 'Big Reader'

As a fellow immigrant to New York City, I read Coming to Astoria with great interest. Whereas the author describes (albeit in too little length) growing up in the 70s, I try to draw parallels to my own experience a decade and a half later. Two stories stand out in Coming To Astoria. The first is the author's description of life back home in Jordan. Omar talks about living with a lot of siblings in one room in a house that encompasses one floor, with no stairs at all. And he contrasts that with the shock, physical and otherwise, of going up the stairs for the first time in his life. The second story that stands out is Omar and his friend Michael entering the shoe shine business. - Anthony Chow

Coming to Astoria is an auto-biography by an Arab immigrant whose family was displaced as the result of the creation of the modern borders of Israel in 1948. The author's family and many like them, who had lived peacefully alongside their Jewish neighbors for centuries, chose to leave Palestine and, in this case, move to Jordan due to the violence between the surrounding Arab nations and the new Jewish State.

Please note: I am not an expert on the history of the many wars and the culture of terror and exploitation in the Middle East, so I am not going to properly set the stage for this story. I do not want to be disrespectful to the real human crises in this region by misrepresenting them. However, I encourage *all* readers from around the world to look closely at the past 80 years (well, actually, 3000 or so) in the Middle East. Avoid popular media because each journalist and news outlet has a rooting interest in their writing. Read the history books and the documents from the times, and learn. The "conflict in the Middle East," as we Westerners like to sanitize and call it, is unresolved for very complicated, very violent, very ugly reasons.

Kiam's Coming to Astoria is wonderful because it gives us a first-person account of what happens to the average family caught in the borders and within Arab cultural traditions. We don't often have the chance to listen to the common man's story. We hear what the governments do not censor or what Al Jazeera or CNN chose to report. We listen to stories of celebrities who have overcome humble beginnings and so on. Those stories are all slanted, and not representative of the more average experience. Coming to Astoria is the story of a typical person trying to live within and around these conflicts.

For its universality, Coming to Astoria is worth the read. However, as a work of writing, it is clearly the result of someone not well-practiced in the skill and art of story-telling. The narrative often rambles. Scenes from the author's memory are given great detail, and then years are glossed over, with no connecting tissue between them. There is no unifying theme. Kiam occasionally wanders into the realm of political rant, and spends pages blasting Arab governments and family customs, particularly pertaining to the treatment of women, and then returns to a catalog-like listing of events from his life. Approximately half of the book is spent bitterly detailing the abusiveness of family members, with no resolution other than "eventually I met and married a nice American girl and raised great kids." Overcoming a history of domestic violence is no small accomplishment - I would have liked to hear that story.

In summary, the story would benefit from a ghost writer, or a very strong editor, who can connect Kiam's dots and present a complete tale rather than a set of scenes. One wants to enjoy the book for its unique perspective and first person narrative, but the writing gets in the way. Hopefully, this author will continue to work on his craft, and retell the story again in more polished form. - Shannon Blue Christensen

 

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