Malaka Gharib has been on my radar ever since I saw her debut graphic memoir, I Was Their American Dream, on the shelves at the library. In that book, she discusses being first-generation Filipino Egyptian American. Three years later, she published It Won’t Always Be Like This, which talks about her summers in the Middle East visiting family. Graphic memoirs are one of my favorite forms of nonfiction, specifically when authors write about their childhoods and their families growing up. Watching the authors come to realizations about their lives is riveting, yet also heartbreaking. I was excited to start It Won’t Always be Like This to see what Malaka Gharib had to say.
Malaka Gharib’s childhood was a bit rocky. Her mother is Filipino and her father Egyptian making Malaka Filipino Egyptian American, plus first generation! Her parents divorced when she was young. Her father eventually left the United States and moved back to Egypt. Sha always thought that her father would eventually come back to the States, but every time she visited, he seemed to have settled into his new life even more.
Her annual summer vacation trip to Egypt when she was nine changed everything. On this trip, her father announced that he had remarried. Malaka now has to navigate her space in her father’s new family. She spends the next fifteen years traveling back to Egypt to visit her father and his growing family. Those years are rough. She is navigating adolescence both in America and in a country where she doesn’t fully understand the religion, language, or culture. She is constantly reevaluating how she fits into her father’s new life. Malaka doesn’t look anything like her siblings (they are fair-haired) and she sticks out. The longer she spends with them, the more Malaka starts to adapt. She opens up to new experiences, new food, new music, and starts to see that Hala, her new stepmother, isn’t actually that different as she thought. She’s actually a bit like Malaka. Seeing Malaka’s childhood memories expressed through an adult lens shows how powerful our memories are in helping form ourselves and our relationships with other. It is all messy and complicated, yet necessary.