THE IDIOT’S TALE is a magical realist novel that combines the multicultural family dynamics of Diana Abu-Jaber’s Arabian Jazz with the dark fable quality of Patrick Suskind’s Perfume.
Born with blue skin, Elspeth Najjar is an outcast Palestinian Christian girl. In Arab folklore, blue is the color of magic, djinns, and protection against evil. In the upscale Sacramento suburbs, it is just a medical condition, and offers scant protection against a mother whose postpartum depression escalates into a mental breakdown.
Elspeth’s father, Justin, has a choice. He can listen to his wife and find a different family for Elspeth. Or he can listen to his immigrant parents, and protect his daughter at all costs⎯even if that cost is his marriage.
He tries a middle road, putting Elspeth in the care of his well-meaning but difficult sister; but as the temporary adoption extends to years, the choice turns Elspeth’s blue skin into a symbol of the Najjar family’s rifts: between the siblings over their dead father, and their struggle to release a troubled history of exile from Nazareth. Only wits and some half-forgotten Arab folklore can show Elspeth how to survive in a family that can’t stop fighting, and be reunited with her new infant brother.