THE IDIOT’S TALE is an 85,000-word family saga that combines the immigrant family dynamics of Diana Abu-Jaber’s Arabian Jazz with the playful twist on Old Country lore that was so appealing in Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni.
Born with blue skin, Elspeth Rummani is an outcast Palestinian Christian girl. In Arab folklore, blue is the color of magic, djinns, and protection against evil. In the upscale San Jose suburbs, it is just a medical condition, and it offers scant protection against a mother whose postpartum depression escalates into a mental breakdown.
Elspeth’s young father, Justin, sees that he can’t care for his newborn daughter and his unstable wife. So he enlists help from three sides of his life that should have remained apart: his stepfather, his crazy aunt, and his sister Tashi.
Their rifts are generations-old. The elders are still feuding over the sale of the family soap factory in Nablus, and it’s an argument that’s also pitted Justin against Tashi since childhood, when their father’s death forced the sale of the ancient factory. For the next twelve years, they all set about defending Elspeth’s best interests—which amounts to each of them ruining her childhood in a different way. She is passed between households and different versions of their feud, even as the family’s present dramas of divorce, illness, and eventual healing unfold.
Set against the fallout of the first intifada, THE IDIOT’S TALE tells the story of growing up in a family where everything is disputed.