Reviewed by Anita Nham
Huda Al-Marashi’s First Comes Marriage: My Not-So-Typical America Love Story (Prometheus Books, 2018) is the first Muslim-American memoir dedicated to themes of love and sexuality. Even though it’s the first book in this genre, it manages to not fall into the typical love-story tropes—and overall, it wonderfully lives up to its difficult task. This charming, candid, yet wistful story captures the idea that not all love stories are like the ones we see on-screen from Hollywood.
Huda meets Hadi, the boy she will ultimately marry, at six years old. Both are the American-born children of Iraqi immigrants growing up in California. Hadi always knew that Huda would be the first and only girl he would ever love, but Huda never felt that “love at first sight.” She wanted to be flirted with and swooned over, to experience dating like in Western cultures. She wanted to have the perfect first date, an unforgettable first kiss, and a surprising proposal she could tell her friends about. However, they must navigate their engagement through the conservative Iraqi pre-marriage rules, like not going out alone before their wedding. And it was much more difficult than they thought it would be.
“I feared the fickleness of American love—the notion that someone could love you and still fall in love with someone else, or like you but not be in love with you, or love you for a time and then lose that spark—but like all delicate things, there was something special about this kind of love.”
Brilliantly constructed around a series of firsts in their relationship –first meeting, first kiss, first date, first sexual encounters—Huda yearns to have a successful relationship by both American and Iraqi cultural standards to please both families and friends. She goes through a lot of inner turmoil and straddling of the two cultures. In spite of being bright and earning numerous scholarships to continue her education, Huda put graduate school on hold for her husband.
Honest and compelling, this memoir deconstructs the American pop culture idea of love and challenges the taboo within the Muslim community. And despite the rough path, her love for Hadi reconciles and grows to be more than your typical fairy tale.