The Best of Two Lives: Al Ahsan fi Hayat Ithnain
by Doris Ayyoub

Resource Publications, 2016. ISBN 978-1-498-29837-7.
Reviewed by Sally Nielsen
Posted on 03/16/2017

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: American Women in Their Cultural/Historical Context; Nonfiction: Relationships

It is a common saying that all people are basically the same, no matter where they come from. I believe all people have the capacity to be hateful, but they have the capacity to love more. The Best of Two Lives Al Ahsan fi Hayat Ithnain, is a memoir of an enduring marriage and an improbable love. It is Ahsanshee!, the very best, of love stories.

Doris Rigney grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Ibrahim Ayyoub grew up in Jordan. They met and fell in love, as many couples do, in college. They married in 1956 in her small hometown of Nyssa and became teachers, he a mathematics professor, she an elementary teacher. They raised two girls. They faced all the usual family blessings and challenges, money worries and house hunting, job changes and broken bones. The only thing that makes the Ayyoub's unusual is that he's Arab born and she's not. And that is the point of this book. It is a story of cherishing an ordinary life.

In every early chapter of the book, Doris meticulously combines her and Abe's life stories by matching rather than contrasting their culture and experiences. Each anecdote, from Ibrahim's boyhood pranks to Doris' girlhood shyness, plays against a detailed tapestry of Jordanian village life just before the religious and political unrest in the Middle East and the landscape of the American West before and during the early civil rights struggles. Their similarities are far more striking than their contrasting cultures: both were gifted students driven to excel by their parents, both were raised as Christian; Ibrahim among many religions, including Muslim, Doris among a variety of Christian beliefs. Both had close family lives.

Their young stories take place in different parts of the world, but their struggles are so very human. Ibrahim struggles with trachoma, an eye disease; Doris struggles with her shyness and "chubbiness." Some anecdotes record their grappling with religious belief. Ibrahim, nurtured by Adventist schools in Jordan, sorts out fundamentalism and a wider view. Doris develops a growing awareness of racial injustice and intolerance.

Doris challenges her family's stereotypical views of Ay-rabs and wild Bedouins successfully. They rise to the occasion and celebrate the marriage, even though Abe had to put up with hair rubbings, because, as a barber let it be known, "his hair is soft and smooth, not like Mexican hair." As the two of them begin their lives together Abe good naturedly struggles with American idioms and traditions. Doris struggles with teaching while being pregnant in the 1950s and then fiercely denying a rampant rumor that their first child, "The Ay-rab girl" was unwanted and up for adoption, perpetrated by a friend who was joking. Yet there is never a violent episode, just the absorption of slights and a gentle turning toward love.

Both would champion justice throughout their lives, through gentle protests and small corrections or simply forgiveness. Doris says that there weren't many non white people in their part of Oregon at the time, and the prejudicial pranks and joking and even stated offenses at hearing Abe speak Arabic testifies to simple ignorance.

When Abe admits, just once, that he "never felt quite comfortable" in America, Doris is very sad, thinking of the family he left behind. But she is near tears when he wakes up from a life saving heart surgery: "He opened his eyes, squeezed my hand and whispered, 'Doris, if I could choose to do it all over again, marrying you and having the girls, I'd do it!'

Doris answers with Abe's favorite word for loving: "Ahsanshee! The Very Best!"

Doris Ayyoub is a retired elementary teacher living in Issaquah, Washington. Her two daughters, Laila Ayyoub and Tammy Ayyoub, live nearby. This is her first book.

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