Tea with Arwa, a memoir by Arwa El Masri, provides a valuable glimpse into a Muslim woman’s experience living in Australia. This memoir follows the story of Arwa, a young woman navigating a new country, struggling to reconcile her Saudi and Australian identities. The book succeeds in broadening the readers understanding of Muslim culture, while demystifying certain cultural myths, such as the role of the veil.
What stood out the most for me, and the main lesson to be taken from this story is that acts of extremism so often connected with Muslim countries are a product of distortions of Islam by political groups and governments for their own aims, rather than a reflection of the religion as a whole.
I initially thought, being non-religious, that I may lose interest in the memoir as the author strongly intertwines her belief in Islam throughout her story. However, the opposite occurred and I was intrigued, fascinated and found it hard to put down. I certainly did not feel preached to, nor did I feel that the author was trying to convert me. Rather, the historical context given, and the way Arwa’s belief intertwines into all aspects of her life including her cooking, enthralled and captivated me.
Themes of identity, the search for meaning, belonging or not belonging, integration, religion and faith, family and culture are all beautifully addressed as the author describes growing up in both Australia and Saudi Arabia. Her journey is one of self-discovery, and follows her pursuit to understand her family of origin, their roots and life stories. These are all themes unique to the universal human experience and will appeal to many who are interested in what makes us who we are, and why we may believe as we do.
I LOVED the recipes. I am absolutely going to cook some of them. My mouth was watering reading them. I loved the way she included a few recipes in nearly all chapters and the stories behind these recipes—her memories of eating and cooking were an added bonus.
I think this memoir is so important particularly in Australia at the present time with governmental policy tilted so strongly against refugees and asylum seekers arriving by boat. The contribution that immigrants have made to the development of Australia, as outlined in the memoir, is lost in the current rhetoric, and the demonising of immigrants as portrayed in popular media, needs to be counter balanced by books such as this. The fact that the author married a popular player from the Canterbury Bulldogs and hardly knew who he was when she first met him also adds a really interesting touch to the book. The way in which Awra combines their stories will appeal to many people.
The author not only has a story to tell, but she is a gifted writer. Her story is also relevant and important in the day and age we live. It was a privilege to read and critique this book.
Reviewed by Jenny Hayworth