Local author explores Muslim heritage, marriage in memoir

Local author explores Muslim heritage, marriage in memoir
Encinitas author Huda Al-Marashi spent the last ten years writing her memoir, “First Comes Marriage: My Not-So-Typical American Love Story.” Al-Marashi and her husband, Hadi, are both born in America to Iraqi immigrants, raised in conservative Muslim households. Courtesy photo

ENCINITAS — Forget about “When Harry Met Sally,” how about when Huda met Hadi?

In the new memoir, “First Comes Marriage My Not-So-Typical American Love Story” written by Encinitas author Huda Al-Marashi, you will learn more about this non-traditional love story.

Al-Marashi met her husband Hadi, when she was 6 years old; they’ve now been married for 20 years and have three children between the ages of 15 and 7. Both are the American-born children of Iraqi immigrants, who grew up on opposite ends of California and who ensued a litany of ups and downs.

“Hadi considers Huda his childhood sweetheart, the first and only girl he’s ever loved, but Huda needs proof that she is more than just the girl Hadi’s mother has chosen for her son. She wants what the American girls have — the entertainment culture’s almost singular tale of chance meetings, defying the odds, and falling in love. She wants stolen kisses, romantic dates, and a surprise proposal. As long as she has a grand love story, Huda believes no one will question if her marriage has been arranged,” according to the book.

Both of their conservative Muslim families forbid them to go out alone before their wedding let alone steal any kisses or even hold hands. As we learn in the book, Al-Marashi must navigate her way through the despair of unmet expectations and dashed happily-ever-after ideals.

“Eventually she comes to understand the toll of straddling two cultures in a marriage and the importance of reconciling what you dreamed of with the life you eventually live,” according to the book.”

And so, the story goes but “First Comes Marriage My Not-So-Typical American Love Story” didn’t come to fruition in a timely manner; it took Al-Marashi more than 10 years from start to finish to get the book off her desk and finally published.

“This has been a long journey for me,” she said. “I had several drafts of a memoir with a different focus that I worked on from around 2007 to 2010 and then put aside. I started working on this book next, and I’ve spent the last eight years drafting, revising, finding and agent, and then in finding a publisher and preparing the book for publication.”

Who should read it?

Her audience, she said is two-fold; however, anyone with an interest in marriage and learning about different cultures should pick it up

“I had two audiences in mind with this story,” Al-Marashi said. “I wanted to offer something to non-Muslim audiences who might not know a Muslim family closely and offer up a story that shows a Muslim-American family in their everyday lives, at a complete remove from rhetoric in the news.”

She also wanted her Muslim readers to see themselves reflected in a love story.

“Muslim artists have been under so much pressure to respond and speak to the post 9-11 experience in their work, but Muslim audiences are hungry to see themselves in ordinary, everyday stories that speak to love and heartbreak,” Al-Marashi said.

“That was something that I never had growing up, and growing up, I made the leap that nobody was telling those kinds of stories about Muslims because we simply didn’t have any relationship stories worthy of telling,” she said. “I really wanted to change that misperception for my children’s generation, and I wanted to do so from within a story that upheld our traditions because, all too often, when you see the story of an immigrant child in television or movies, they are rebelling against their parents in order to fit in with mainstream society.”

True to life

And while “First Comes Marriage My Not-So-Typical American Love Story” is meant to be a memoir, one might wonder how closely it mirrors her life’s journey with her husband.

“One thing that is so important to acknowledge in any conversation about memoir is that no matter how closely you stick to a memory of a moment, you are still shaping the truth with what you choose to include and what you choose to exclude,” Al-Marashi said. “No life has the narrow focus that a memoir requires, and during those same years that I’ve covered in this book, so many other things were happening in my life with other characters.”

There were other conflicts and other joys, too. In that way, a memoir will always have a bit of an element of fiction to it, she said.

“When you take your life experience and shape it into a story that is organized around a theme, you are creating meaning that, most likely, was not there in the ordinary passage of time,” she said. “I could take the same set of years and write it through the lens of my relationship with my mother, or my siblings, or a friend, and it would be a completely different story with a different message.”

Writing a book is difficult enough, as most authors and writers will attest, but writing one about your own life is twice as hard, she adds.

“The most difficult part was being really honest about things I did not want to share but I knew the story required,” Al-Marashi said. “It was extremely difficult for me to write through some of the more private moments of my life, but I knew it would be disingenuous to tell a story about a newlywed couple without acknowledging physical intimacy.

“It’s too big a part of a marriage to ignore, and I knew I had to push past that the impulse to hide on the page.”

But on the flipside, the best moments were the true moments of self-discovery, she said.

“What I love about the work of memoir is that it forces you to challenge that shorthand narratives that we all have stored in our minds,” Al-Marashi said. “Our memories are full of stories where we assign causes and blame, but when you sit down to write through a moment, you have to stand back and interrogate that memory.

“You have to ask yourself, was that really what happened? Was that really what I thought back then? And, then you have to do the same work on the behalf of your other characters in that scene, too,” she said.

Main message

As for the memoirs main message. she said she hopes readers will take away something of value once they turn the last page.

“Most memoirs answer the question of, ‘How did I get here?’ and in order to do that, the writer has to unravel this tight little knot of identity and see the way culture, religion, family, socio-economics and education intersected in his or her life,” Al-Marashi said.

In her story, she was trying to look at the way all those influences, particularly coming from a bi-cultural identity, shaped her expectations of what it means to be in love.

“In my book, I call it the ‘journey to reconcile what you dreamed of with what you got,’” she said. “I think expectations can poison a relationship, and the most important thing we can do is parse out when we are really in conflict with our partners and when we are in conflict with our ideas of how we think things are supposed to be.”

Hadi’s thoughts

So, what does her husband Hadi have to say about his wife’s book and sharing their private life?

“This has been a journey for him, too,” Al-Marashi said. “When I first started this project, I shared with him my intentions and hopes for the book. I warned him that he would read about thoughts that no spouse should ever have to read, and I think, back then he would have been more than happy if the book never got published. But he didn’t discourage me, and I kept writing.”

She shared with him a later draft, when she felt like she was confident enough in the work that his reaction would not derail her creative process, and then they talked a lot.

“We talked about areas where our memories differed, and I gave him veto power over things he was really not comfortable with having in the book,” she said. “And, I did what I could to build in a buffer, to change his name and those he was related to. But now that we are here, he’s been overwhelmingly supportive and surprisingly proud. He’s inviting all his co-workers to my events and telling all his friends, and I really thought he was going to want to keep this as quiet as possible.”

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