Inventing Home: Emigration, Gender, and the Middle Class in Lebanon, 1870-1920, by Akram Fouad Khater. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2001. xiv + 189 pages. Bibl. to p. 246. Index to p. 257. $55.00 cloth; $22.50 paper.
Reviewed by Nancy W. Jabbra
Over a third of the population of Mount Lebanon left between 1890 and 1914. Yet, as Akram Fouad Khater argues in Inventing Home, the emigrants did not simply become assimilated into the nations that received them, nor did they simply become modern former peasants and members of the middle class. Instead, the process of change in the new milieu was a dialectical one, in which the emigrants both resisted and accommodated change, all the while ardently discussing the meaning of their experiences in magazines, newspapers, and social gatherings. They sent letters and remittances back home, and a substantial number of them returned home to stay, bearing new goods and ideas. And so, emigration from Lebanon affected the old country, too.
It is Khater's contention that the modernization of Lebanon cannot be understood without investigating the effects of emigration. Moreover, he argues that modernity is not only about the formation of the middle class, but also about family and gender. Thus, Khater's narrative takes the reader from the Mountain to the diaspora and back, addressing issues of class, gender, and family at each stage.
Inventing Home is divided into seven chapters. In the first chapter, Khater lays out his basic argument. In chapter 2, he addresses the economy of the Mountain after 1861, and the reasons why so many peasants left. Silk production raised standards of living, and young women became factory workers. When silk prices fell, the next step for peasants was to leave the Mountain, but in the meantime, old standards of morality had been challenged.
Chapters 3 and 4 move the story to the diaspora, where old standards underwent further challenges. Many men took up the factory work they disdained, while others peddled; women went out peddling on their own, and families were crammed together with strangers in tenements where American middle class reformers attempted to raise their standards of living. At the same time, religious, clan, and village identities were superseded by national ones. Following the lead of American writers, many Lebanese extolled a domestic vision for modern Lebanese American women; others challenged these views. …