Twin Sisters Tell a Familiar Tale: Growing Up Arab American in the Aftermath of September 11

Lynne Rogers
Author Aisha Abdel Gawad.
Between Two Moons: A Novel
By Aisha Abdel Gawad
Doubleday, 2023
With her debut novel “Between Two Moons,” Aisha Abdel Gawad joins her Arab Anglophone sisters in writing: Isabella Hammad, Susan Abulhawa, Hala Aylan, Laila Lalami, and others. Like those before her, Gawad writes with acute attention to detail as her narrative follows the tribulations of an Arab American family in Brooklyn, New York, after 9/11. The subsequent surveillance of Arab Americans hovers over the Arab neighborhood, and the insidious effects of that surveillance leak into the family unit but never overpower this moving family drama. This suspenseful coming-of-age novel follows twin sisters getting ready to graduate high school and their angry older brother, who is just released from prison. The twins, Amira and Lina, are incredibly close and loving, yet their differences couldn’t be bolder. In the shadow of Lina’s beauty, Amira fashions herself into the wise sister with the head scarf headed for college. Constantly made aware of her beauty, the rebellious Lina dreams of a career in modeling. However, her dreams lead her away from school and into the damaging yet unfortunately common pitfalls of promiscuity and drugs. Nevertheless, Amira, who spends her time volunteering at the Arab American Center, which helps new immigrants navigate American bureaucracy and teaches them how to respond to the FBI, never judges her sister, occasionally joins her party ventures, and rescues her several times from some very depressing situations. Despite their differences, they both remain loving and vulnerable daughters who struggle between the “most tender dream to get out. To change my name and dye my hair to become someone bold and careless” and the “desire not to abandon my tribe, not to be disloyal, not to be like them-those people. Out there in the world, who didn’t know us and despised us.” They also share anxieties about the return of their silently angry brother Sami, who they don’t understand and who, after an eight-year absence, will disrupt the family dynamics again.
Their parents are also apprehensive about Sami’s return and simultaneously overjoyed with love to see their eldest son at home. The mother, a teacher at the Islamic school who lost her job because of a secret back in Egypt, is now a stay-at-home mother who catches a few tutoring jobs. The most religious member of the family, she is a steady anchor for her children. Eventually, to connect with her daughters, she reveals her secret past. Their father, a poetry-loving Egyptian butcher, expresses a refreshing understanding of the defects of youth. The morning after Amira “sneaks” home after a night out with her sister, her father tells her he knows she was out drinking and calmly advises her, “Now that you have experienced alcohol, just don’t do it again.” 
While the twins see themselves “as Muslim but not Muslim,” the novel contains outstanding religious references that will resonate with American Muslims and enlightened outsiders. The title refers to Allah saying, “We have ordained places for the moon, which daily wanes and in the end appears like a bent old twig.” The mosque provides a source of connection and solidarity during turbulent times for the community, especially after someone vandalizes the mosque with urine. When Amira’s Pakistani suitor shows up at her mosque with hints of stalking, Lina advises her, “That’s why I don’t date Muslims…Got to keep that shit separate.” 
Like the calm before the storm, the family has a tranquil domestic life when all three siblings fall ill, staying home to binge-watch old films and share gallons of ice cream until their fevers break. Sami strengthens his bonds with his sisters and, ironically as the silent one, helps Amira express her anger with a baseball bat. But this little domestic oasis cannot last, and eventually, the outside world roars into their living room, shattering their shelter. This well-constructed novel of social realism brings to life the entire neighborhood of Bay Ridge Brooklyn by focusing on this one unremarkable but empathetic family. Aisha Abdel Gawad’s multi-generational novel, “Between Two Moons,” gives readers an intimate and gripping look into the challenges, joy, and refreshing humor of an Arab American family while witnessing a dark moment in American history.
“Twin Sisters Tell a Familiar Tale: Growing Up Arab American in the Aftermath of September 11” by Lynne Rogers is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming Al Jadid, Vol. 27, No. 84. 
Subscribe to Al Jadid Digital for $15.95. Subscribers gain access to Al Jadid’s online archive, which includes 18 years of Al Jadid Magazine issues and the last two years of Inside Al Jadid Reports:
If you are a student and your library is not subscribed to Al Jadid, contact your library to subscribe to Al Jadid’s institutional subscription:
If you are interested in purchasing print copies of Al Jadid Magazine (Nos. 42-75), contact us at or by mail:
Al Jadid Magazine
5762 Lincoln Ave. #1005
Cypress, CA 90630
Copyright © 2023 by Al Jadid