Imagine you are a Palestinian who came to America as a young man, eventually finding yourself caught between the country you live in with your wife and daughter, and the home—and parents—you left behind. Imagine living every day in your nonnative language and becoming estranged from your native tongue, which you use less and less as you become more ensconced in the United States. This is the story told by Ahmad Almallah in Bitter English, an autobiography-in-verse that explores the central role language plays in how we construct our identities and how our cultures construct them for us.
Through finely crafted poems that utilize a plainspoken roughness to keep the reader slightly disoriented, Almallah replicates his own verbal and cultural experience of existing between languages and societies. There is a sense of displacement to these poems as Almallah recounts the amusing, sad, and perilous moments of day-to-day living in exile. At the heart of Bitter English is a sense of loss, both of home and of his mother, whose struggle with Alzheimer’s becomes a reflection of his own reality in exile. Filled with wit, humor, and sharp observations of the world, Bitter English brings a fresh poetic voice to the American immigrant experience.