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May 23, 2014

Book Notes - Krista Bremer "My Accidental Jihad"

My Accidental Jihad

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Krista Bremer's My Accidental Jihad is a moving and honest memoir about the search for truth and love.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Bremer's particular story strikingly highlights the (usually more mundane) cultural clashes and compromises inherent to every marriage or long-term relationship."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Krista Bremer's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir, My Accidental Jihad:


In my mid-twenties, I had a passion for surfing, a bookshelf of feminist books, a longing for adventure and ambitious plans for my future. Then I met and fell in love with an older Muslim man from Libya. My memoir, My Accidental Jihad: A Love Story, is about our bicultural relationship – which, of course, all relationships are. Two people enter into marriage with different ideas and assumptions about romance,family, and home – and they must negotiate these differences and learn to speak a common language. Whether we marry someone from the other side of the world, as I have done, or from down the street, we eventually arrive at a moment where our mate seems impossibly foreign to us. What we do in those moments is at the heart of my book. I'm interested to explore what intimacy entails and what love requires of us. In many ways this book is about my search for home -- and when, at the end of the book, I finally discover a new conception of belonging, my epiphany comes in at a crowded rock concert in the dark, in the sweaty crush of fans all around me. In my life and in my book, music gives expression to longing. Here is my book's playlist:

Lucinda Williams, "Sharp Cutting Wings (Song to a Poet)"

When I first met my husband, we listened to this simple, romantic song in his tiny apartment on lazy weekend mornings. Its refrain ("Your words run through me like the blood in my veins/I could swear I knew your love before I knew your name…") speak to the strong emotion I immediately felt for him before I knew anything about his culture, faith, or background. Another line -- "Let's fly away to some foreign country where nobody knows who we are" -- speaks to an impulse I felt early on – and still sometimes do. As a couple, we were misfits; I felt out of place among Libyans and Muslims, and he did not belong among my surfer or graduate- school friends. I longed to be somewhere far from where we each individually belonged –to find neutral ground and anonymity so our unexpected love could grow unencumbered by judgment from people we knew.

Bob Dylan, "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go"

I never imagined for a moment that this relationship would last -- and as we grew closer, I began to contemplate how much I would miss Ismail after it inevitably ended. I love all the questions posed in this song: ("You're gonna make me wonder what I'm doing…" "You're gonna make me wonder what I'm saying.." "You're gonna make me give myself a good talking to..") If we are very lucky, every once in a while we meet someone who challenges our most cherished assumptions about the world, who makes the story we've been telling ourselves our whole lives start to slip away like paper in the wind, who thrusts us into conflict between the person we thought we were and the person we aspire to become. Ismail was that person for me.

Nina Simone, "How It Feels To Be Free"

To my understanding, the desire to write is the desire to transcend countless limitations imposed on us by families, faith, culture, and all the various roles we play. It is the desire to have a free-flying, unfettered imagination, to remain fully alive, to refuse to be lulled into a sleepwalking routine. "I wish I could share all the love in my heart/ I wish I could break all the things that bind us apart." There is no better way to express the internal struggle, or jihad, that I try to make manifest in the pages of this book. It is the struggle to dismantle the illusion of otherness, to remember and to remind others what we share in common, to find a way to free myself and others from the prisons of our own making, the ones made of our own illusions and prejudice. I love how Nina Simone claims, at the end of the song and with both exuberance and defiance, to know this freedom – because I believe we all carry this knowledge in our hearts.

Orchestre National De Barbes, "Salam Alaykum"

The Berber National Orchestra is a band made up of French, Morroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, and Portugese Musicians. The title of this song, Salam Alaykum, means peace be with you – which is the traditional Muslim greeting. I love the way this song expresses that sentiment with such spirit, joy, and verve. Another word in the refrain is marhaba –welcome – a word I heard over and over again when I travelled to Libya to meet my in-laws for the first time. My Libyan relatives taught me the meaning of welcome; they showed me more gracious hospitality than I had ever encountered. In spite of the brutal oppression they had endured for decades under Gaddaffi, they managed to fill their homes with joy and celebration.

Cat Stevens, "Hard Headed Woman"

This song reminds me of my mother-in-law, whom my husband credits for nearly all the success in his life. Though she remains illiterate, she was fiercely determined that each of her children would finish college- and all eight of them did. My husband Ismail went on to complete his doctorate in the U.S. One of the many misconceptions I have encountered about Muslim men is that they are controlling husbands – but my experience has been the opposite. I think this song articulates what Ismail sought in a wife. "I'm looking for a hard headed woman, One who will make me do my best, And if I find my hard headed woman, I know the rest of my life will be blessed." Following the example of his mother, he was looking for someone who had a strong voice and a fighting spirit, and who would serve as the moral authority of the household.

Old Crow Medicine Show, "I Hear Them All"

It's tempting to have a dualistic view of the world: to divide it into us vs. them. The divisions might be Muslim vs. non-Muslim, or man vs. woman, rich vs. poor, old vs. young… the list goes on and on. This type of thinking only distracts us from the most pressing issues we face as a global community -- so in my writing I try to subvert this thought process, to explore the in-between spaces between various identities. I love the way this song names injustice, expresses faith in humanity, and unites the world religions in opposition to corruption and economic injustice. Plus, the twang of the fiddle and the southern accent remind me of my home in the South.

Tinariwen, "Amassakoul"

My book ends at a Tinariwen concert. Formed more than thirty years ago in a refugee camp, Tinariwen produces a hypnotic blend of West African Blues, reggae, and rock, all melted together as if they've been left out in the desert sun. The band members are Tourag, nomads who have lived in the desert for millennia. Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, the founder of Tinariwen once built his own guitar from a stick, a tin can, and a bicycle brake wire. Later he incorporated the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Bob Marley into his own music. This particular song is about wandering in the desert and about enduring loneliness. My book is about a journey in search of home, and about learning to bear the loneliness that is part of any enduring relationship. With music Tinariwen blends worlds – just as I also try to do with words, turning a sometimes painful collision into beautiful art.


Krista Bremer and My Accidental Jihad links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book

Bookreporter review
Kirkus review
New York Times review
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette review
Publishers Weekly review
Raleigh News and Observer review

Chapel Hill Magazine profile of the author
NBC News interview with the author
Oregonian interview with the author
Raleigh News and Observer profile of the author
WUNC interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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