Joseph Geha discusses ‘Lebanese Blonde’ on Iowa Public Radio

by Brianne Johnson on February 13, 2013

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Lebanese Blonde may be a work of fiction, but, for author Joseph Geha, the novel hits close to home. That home is in the “Little Syria” community of Toledo, Ohio, and during an interview that recently aired on Iowa Public Radio, Geha discussed the places, experiences, and people that inspired the book.

“The people are made up,” Geha said in the interview with “Talk of Iowa,” “But they’re founded on people I grew up with.” As an example, Geha names his father as a dominant source of inspiration for a character named Uncle Waxy. He also describes the urgency to “work hard [and] to work well” felt by Lebanese American immigrants, and the lengths to which they, including his father, would go to provide for their families.

“The idea was to work for yourself, to be your own boss,” Geha said. “The idea was to get out of [poverty] as soon as you could. One of the ways … was to be peddlers. They went around with packs on their backs … like big baskets, and they were filled with pins and needles and scissors and cloth and yarn, and they would go door to door, [and ask], ‘Scissors, Missus?’, and the idea was that you saved up enough money doing that, so you could open up your own store.”

A novel about family, identity, and tradition, Lebanese Blonde takes place in 1975-76 at the beginning of Lebanon’s sectarian civil war. Set primarily in the Toledo, Ohio, “Little Syria” community, it is the story of two immigrant cousins: Aboodeh, a self-styled entrepreneur; and Samir, his young, reluctant accomplice. Together the two concoct a scheme to import Lebanese Blonde, a potent strain of hashish, into the United States, using the family’s mortuary business as a cover. When Teyib, a newly arrived war refugee, stumbles onto their plans, his clumsy efforts to gain acceptance raise suspicion. Aboodeh and Sam’s problems grow still more serious when a shipment goes awry and their links to the war-ravaged homeland are severed. Soon it’s not just Aboodeh and Sam’s livelihoods and futures that are imperiled, but the stability of the entire family.

The full interview can be found here, and more information about Lebanese Blonde can be found here.

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