Dream Homes chronicles Joyce Zonana’s quest to find a sense of home among people, foods, and places as far from her native Cairo as Oklahoma and Katrina-stricken New Orleans.
After the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, newlyweds Felix and Nellie Zonana flee Cairo with their infant daughter Joyce, ending up in Brooklyn. Growing up, Joyce swiftly realizes that her Jewish family and their Egyptian culture are neither typically American nor typically American-Jewish; they eat kobeba instead of kugel and speak French instead of Yiddish. Struggling with her feelings of isolation from other Americans and frustrated by never getting full access to Egyptian-Jewish culture, Zonana sets out on a life-long journey to find her place in the world.
She meets her extended family living in Colombia and Brazil and travels to Cairo to get a glimpse of her parents’ past. After she and her mother survive the devastation of Katrina, Zonana comes to see that “home” is not a location, but a spiritual state of mind. Zonana’s heritage and quest are also evoked in numerous photos and family recipes.
“Joyce Zonana's beautifully crafted Dream Homes is juicy with lived experience, lush with imagery and ideas—a treat for the senses and the intellect. Spanning locales as diverse as Egypt, her country of origin, through New Orleans, to the dry plains of Oklahoma, Zonana carries us along with her through the spaces—both sensual and emotional—that make up a woman's life. This is a literary journey the reader won't quickly forget.”
"In luminous and lucid prose, at once lament, elegy, and song, Zonana remembers the world of Egyptian Jews, a world she never knew, a world she knows intimately."
"Joyce Zonana’s search for home is a hungry story, longing to be told again and again, moving across vast landscapes of the heart. Ranging widely in time and space, from her family’s origins as Egyptian Jews fleeing anti-semitism to her post-Katrina exile from New Orleans, this luminous, haunting memoir is as carefully and lovingly constructed as one of its authors’ stuffed grape leaves. Whether our own tables are sumptuous or meager, Joyce Zonana’s journey shows us the resilient power of our lost homes to mold us and our own stories. I savored this book."
"Joyce Zonana's memoir is a lush and beautiful read—a picture of the exotic (Egypt, Brazil), the mundane (New York), and the devastating (New Orleans after Katrina). Zonana writes gorgeous prose, full of spices and senses and sounds, while telling the story of a bookish girl who, like all of us, wants independence and love and great food. There are even recipes!"
"Zonana's memoir . . . captures with honesty and beauty the suffering and uncertainty of migration and assimilation, whether forced or formulated."
"Dream Homes is a story that is rich in travel, in memory, and in love—of family, of friends, of lovers both male and female, and of many, many places; it is filled with detail about the rituals that make life worth living—shared food (readers will be grateful for the recipe for stuffed grape leaves), shared prayers. In the end . . . Zonana is still on a welcoming threshold, combining the traditional with the new, cherishing 'the beauty of our past, the promise of our future.'"
"The writing is elegant and passionate, the story is familiar and strange all at once. A beautiful read."
"[An] absorbing, wide-ranging memoir . . ."
"[Zonana's] . . . lyrical descriptions are beautiful, invigorating."