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The Girl Who Fell to Earth

3.42  ·  Rating details ·  776 ratings  ·  126 reviews
When Sophia Al-Maria's mother sends her away from rainy Washington State to stay with her husband's desert-dwelling Bedouin family in Qatar, she intends it to be a sort of teenage cultural boot camp. What her mother doesn't know is that there are some things about growing up that are universal. In Qatar, Sophia is faced with a new world she'd only imagined as a child. She ...more
Paperback, 271 pages
Published November 27th 2012 by Harper Perennial
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3.42  · 
Rating details
 ·  776 ratings  ·  126 reviews

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Aug 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those wanting clearer images of Arabia
This memoir has a stranger-than-fiction appeal made all the more delectable by Al-Maria's matter-of-fact, breezy delivery. She deploys language with a spring in its step and whimsy in its heart. The glossary alone made me feel I was drinking coffee and catching up with a friend I loved the space/sci-fi theme, which dissolved alienating boundaries between urban and traditional Beduin, Cairene and rural USian lifestyles, but left their quirks and contrasts intact. I felt Al-Maria's relish and rese ...more
Sep 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
For much of my reading of The Girl Who Fell to Earth, I felt fairly confused about my feelings for the book, perhaps reflecting the author's feelings of confusion with her life and identity as an Arab-American girl and Muslim whose parents lived on different continents and lived quite separate lives. Sophia/Safya Al-Maria is the daughter of an American mother from Pallyup and a Bedouin father from Doha and other places. The couples' history is included in this memoir. Sophia's story is influence ...more
Hani Al-Kharaz
الرواية موجهة بالدرجة الرئيسية للقارئ الغربي كما أشارت الكاتبة في مقدمتها، وهي بالتالي لا تحمل جديداً للقارئ المحلي، إلا أنها جاءت سلسة وممتعة،
وإن كنت أتمنى لو تعمقت الكاتبة قليلاً في تحليلاتها لبعض القضايا التي طرحتها فيها، كصراع الهوية، العلاقات بين الجنسين، النظرة للقبائل البدوية، النظرة الأمريكية للعرب بعد أحداث ١١ سبتمبر، وغيرها، إذ بدا واضحاً أن الكاتبة تمتلك نظرة تحليلية للأمور ولكنها لم توظفها بشكل كبير في الرواية.

تستحق الكاتبة التحية والثناء على توثيق تجربتها بهذه الجرأة والشجاعة.
Dec 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Part American and part Bedouin--growing up in at least two cultures

When Sophia Al-Maria’s father was a boy his family still lived a traditional Bedouin lifestyle, traveling around the deserts of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and sleeping in tents under skies dark enough to be filled with stars. After being forced by boundary-loving authorities to settle in a gender-segregated family compound her father’s wanderlust remained, which is how he ended up in Seattle unable to speak English but still managing
Sep 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Although this book drew me in from the start, I was initially frustrated by the way Al -Maria skipped over many years omitting many details of her life. It left me with many unanswered questions. For instance I wondered if her father ever ended up studying, if her parents ever actually divorced, if her mother ever recovered from the shock of her father marrying a second wife or how her relationship to her sister was. However at a certain point it became clear that although The Girl Who Fell To E ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Anyone who reads memoirs knows that a successful one requires two distinct elements: an interesting life, and strong writing skills. By memoir standards, Sophia Al-Maria’s life is promising: her father is a Bedouin from Qatar, her mother an American from rural Washington; she grows up in the U.S. but moves to Doha as a teenager to live with her father’s family, then attends college in Cairo. That clash of cultures seen through the eyes of a modern teen, interested in sci-fi and video games, prov ...more
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
Towards the end of the book, there's a scene where Sofia al-Maria reviews the video tapes she made during a summer job filming Bedouin in the Sinai as part of an ethnographic research project, and realizes to her horror that much of the tapes consist not of revealing footage of her Bedouin subjects' lives, but of...her talking about herself!

The same could be said of this pleasant but ultimately disappointing book. Sofia moves between fascinatingly different worlds--American small town, resettled
Clara Rosell
Jul 31, 2018 rated it liked it
I don’t mean to invalidate the author’s experience in any way with this review, but this book just didn’t do it for me, because of the way it’s executed. I went into this memoir with a lot of enthusiasm and curiosity, expecting a coming of age story of someone lost between two culturally-different worlds. As a young woman I related with many passages regarding finding one’s identity during adolescence and especially in relation to one’s own family. Having her mother and father in two different c ...more
Moses Fisher
May 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This memoir is the story of a girl stuck between two worlds- the strict, Muslim environment that her father grew up in, and the alien, lonely American life of her mother. Sophia grows as a person through trial and error, trying to figure out where she belongs. She finally discovers that she is one of a kind, and that neither world will really fit her. She accepts this, and finds contentment in it.
This book, simply put, was incredible. It's a coming-of-age story of sorts, and really focuses on
Dec 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I always wanted to read a book written by a young Arab author touching on existing normal Arab life. Something that was more profound than the stuff that came out earlier this year about life in Dubai. Something that spoke to a generation of girls who lost their identities living away from their home countries in the midst of so many different nationalities, cultures and religions. A book that dealt with issues around Islam and conservatism in the modern way we grew up in and struggled to find t ...more
Debra Anne
Part Seattle-an, part Bedouin, part starseed, Sophia Al-Maria gently rattles stereotypes by simply telling her experience as a child of "Other" ethnicity.

The first stereotype she rattles is that of fierce Muslim taboos about sexuality. Nowhere does she say it isn't true that girls are punished harshly for pressing sexual boundaries, but her own story suggests that perhaps this isn't as universal as Americans have been given to believe. She is technically a bastard since Matar and Gale weren't m
This book is the story of a woman with a Qatari father and an American mother and her life growing up in Qatar, the US, and Egypt. I felt like the author skimmed over the things that were really interesting, and gave too much information about the less interesting parts of her life. I wanted to hear more about her parents and their relationship. Her mother and father met with very little language in common and in a short period of time they were married and she converted to Islam, and not much m ...more
Dec 14, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
I stayed up way too late two nights in a row, reading this book obsessively. The author has had a very unusual life and provides an intimate look inside two very different cultures. Her Bedouin father met her American mother when he went to Tacoma, Washington to study. She was the result of their love affair and marriage. After the family moves to Qatar, however, things begin to fall apart as her father is away from home three weeks out of four, working on an oil rig. When he marries a second wi ...more
Jan 31, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
The book began nicely with Al-Maria outlining her father’s Bedouin boyhood and cultural background--although awkwardly written because it wasn’t clear who she was referring to until many pages in--and how he ended up in Puyallup, Washington and met the author’s mother. Their unlikely meeting and love story was interesting and entertaining.

As the story moves into Al-Maria’s childhood and teenage years bouncing back and forth between the Middle East and Washington, it loses a lot of steam and jus
Apr 30, 2017 rated it liked it
I will admit -- I bought this book for its cover. Pretty stars, another "girl" title. Then the subject on the back grabbed me. Given all that's going on in the world right now I was intrigued about the journey of an American/Arab (Bedouin) young woman. The fact she came from my home state of Washington was also enticing.

I related to her rebellious nature that drives her distraught single mom to send her to her father and his tribe half way across the world. My daughter is 17 and sometimes I hav
Julie Barrett
Aug 14, 2013 rated it liked it
I really loved the first part of this memoir but towards the end it all fizzled out. I got the impression that Sophia/Safya had absolutely no idea how to end the book. That's a problem with memoirs written by young people, especially as young as she is (born in 1983). You are still living your life and so once you get beyond writing about your childhood, you are confronted with writing about your adult life - which you are currently living and thus it is hard to get perspective. She probably sho ...more
This book is a coming-of-age story of a girl from the state of Washington who goes to live in Qatar and studies at the American University in Egypt. Her mother's from Washington, and her father's from Qatar. It's nice to know about for a few reasons. First, it offers a rare understanding of how someone in the author's situation has a mixed identity (nationality, language, culture). Second, it provides a common-but-timeless account of growing up through childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood ...more
Allaire Younica
May 10, 2013 rated it did not like it
I really expected there to be some wisdom or insight that Sophia gained from her interesting life and experiences that she would share that would make the book worth reading. But it seems that her conclusion was that there really is no meaning to life, love or sex, and life is merely a compilation of unrelated experiences without meaning. This would appeal to people who don't believe that they can make what they want of this life and don't take responsibility for their response to the experience ...more
Joseph Armani
Aug 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
To be honest, I think this book has taught me more about Arab life than any history teacher taught me about the Arab world. This book is a great memoir that pieces together the struggles of coming of age in a world that constantly changes. Just as amazing as A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. I liked Sophia (or Safya)'s struggles to establish herself in certain obstacles in her life like order, her bipolar parents, and individuality.
Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is quite a story of a young woman's coming-of-age between two worlds: Bedouin Qatar and Washington state. She is a child of an Arab Bedouin father and an American farm girl and must find her place in the world. She ends up in Cairo, on a rat-infested house boat on the Nile and finds her way to AUC where she begins to discover herself and her people. An intriguing read.
Esther Bradley-detally
Sep 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Compelling - widest range of bicoastal life of anyone on the planet; intriguing writer, a gripper-talented writer speaks of her life from the Pacific Northwest to the desert in Arabian gulf; urban to nomadic, amazing. I'm going to look for this author, and I wish her the absolute best!
Alex Linschoten
Feb 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: qatar
Much better than I had expected. This is the memoir of a girl who grows up between an American family/childhood and her Bedouin family, constantly shifting from one to the other. Well written and sensitive to the realities of life as a young woman in a Qatari Bedouin semi-tribal environment.
Mar 04, 2016 rated it liked it
The beginning of the book is quite confusing, but it gets more interesting while you keep reading. I liked the way the author shows the Arab culture and its influence in her life.
Doreen Fritz
Sep 15, 2017 rated it liked it
We have a family friend who is half USA and half Egyptian, and I've watched how she has vacillated between nationalities and loyalties throughout her life (she's now 38), so that was all in my mind as I read this memoir by a woman who is half USA and half Bedoin. She (Al-Maria) tells her father's story of leaving the tribe and journeying to America -- to Seattle. The wandering that was in his blood, writes As-Maria, gave him the impetus and courage to strike out to a strange land while not knowi ...more
Dec 12, 2017 rated it liked it
The "fallen" girl, Sophia, is the daughter of an American mother and an Arabic father. Her parents meet when Matar travels to the US seeking his fortune, and marries Gale and starts a family before leaving them to return to his homeland. Over the course of her childhood and youth, Sophia (or Safya as she is known to the tribe), travels to Qatar a few times - once with her mother and sister when they learn of Matar's new wife, and later as an unruly teen.
The story starts off with an unconnected
Nabil Lekmine
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
I feel like a lot of people don't really appreciate this book for what it's worth.
This book is a memoir about the life of Sophia Al-Maria. She grew up in two very distinct and interesting cultures. Her father who was nomadic people of the desert (Bedouin), While the mom being the good ol' American. I feel this book had many strong points, one being able to capitalize on certain dramatic events. Especially when (SPOILER ALERT) Sophia's dad brought home a 2nd wife. For those who don't know, the p
Oct 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a memoir, recounting the author's experience growing up with an American mother and a Bedouin father from the Middle East. It’s very well-written and a great story. I didn’t realize it was based on the author’s life until I had already finished it. The clash between the cultures is fascinating – she spends her first 9 or so years in Washington State, and then is shipped off to Qatar, where her father is largely absent and parks her with his large Bedouin family. She longs to go home, of ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: world-booklist

"I was convinced that all the women in my family had forgotten what it was like to be fearless and what it had once meant to be free."

"Qatar is in many ways a place where miracle happen, and to that individual, who personally saw to it that I would receive an education-- I will always be grateful."

"Despite all of this I felt a bizarre elation,m a powerful feeling of control after having lost control."

Jeffrey Ogden Thomas
Not just another memoir of a girl beat down by conservative muslim/saudi society -- the voice is remarkably controlled and the language is so matter-of-fact. We expect some horrible tragedy to occur, but no, (spoiler alert) no great tragedy: it continues blithely along with merely mystifying tribal behavior in the US and in the Saudi/Qatar quarter. I deem it required reading for anyone living in Qatar or eastern Saudi, for its descriptions of modern bedouin life and attitudes.
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: summer-17
3.5?? 4??
This was such a beautiful memoir and Sophia and her family were so interesting. I loved the focus on Sophia's struggle with finding a sexuality in both Seattle and in the Arabian Gulf, her relationships with her Mother, Father, and all her relatives was so fascinating. The ending of the book sort of faded out which was pretty dissatisfying, but overall it was such an enjoyable read and maybe it was just because I found her childhood and teenager years more interesting.
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