Daughter, Son, Assassin: A Novel

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    Steven Salaita

    Publisher: Common Notions

    Year: 2024

    Format: Paperback

    Size: 208 pages

    ISBN: 9781945335082

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A story of family bonds amid political betrayal that explores the drastic steps that a young girl will take in order to find a sense of belonging.

Fred is lost, confused, almost certainly about to die. As he traces his steps back from the desert where he has been dropped by soldiers of a repressive Gulf Kingdom regime, his nine-year-old daughter, Nancy, is doing the same from six thousand miles away in a quiet neighborhood in the suburbs of Washington, DC. 

With his disappearance, she and her mother are forced to leave their comfortable house in DC for a new life in Virginia.  Abandoned by their friends and desperate for answers, Nancy and her mother must acclimate to the strange world of suburban anonymity. As Nancy grows into adulthood, she pieces together what happened to her father and devises a bold plan to avenge his disappearance.  

Unraveling an international web of deceit in order to find her father will take time and patience; and becoming a cold-blooded assassin takes commitment to a life at odds with everything she knows.


Steven Salaita is an award-winning scholar, writer, and activist. He is the author of ten books about Arab Americans, Indigenous peoples, race and ethnicity, and literature, most notably Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine, Anti-Arab Racism in the USA: Where it Comes From and What it Means for Politics, and An Honest Living. He currently teaches at the American University of Cairo. This is his first work of fiction. He tweets at @stevesalaita.


The dunes rose and fell like the knolls of an unfurled blanket. I could see only shades of beige in every direction. No trees. No grass. No shrubbery. I had been dropped into an ecosystem of microbes and subterranean animals.

            Two concave wounds on my right cheek festered in the midday heat. My abdomen throbbed beneath fractured ribs. I sat in a drift of sand near the top of a dune, battered, pathetic, exhausted. Dehydration pushed my brain against the inside of my skull. I scanned the cloudless sky. No hope of curing the condition.

            I took off my shirt and wrapped it around my scalp, trying to cover my shoulders and arms with the remaining fabric. My boxer-briefs were useless but for the slim hope that I would encounter another person. No leg bones were broken. My bare feet were an advantage in the sand.

            The soldiers concealed my vision on the drive over. Once the sounds of civilization had disappeared, we were on a paved road for a long time, but I had no sense of scope or distance. We pulled off and then drove across unstable terrain for another long time. I figured I wasn’t terribly far from a road, which would eventually lead to a curbside stall or a village. A battered man in underwear wouldn’t entice any drivers to stop, but one of them might recognize my dire condition.

            I stayed in place while considering my options. There really was no choice but to follow the tire tracks before the wind blew them away. They could lead me further into the desert, but I didn’t imagine my captors to be so clever or patient. They would have wanted to get home and eat dinner. These were men guided not by method, but appetite.

            The sun was high overhead. It scorched my wounds and gave my skin a papery texture. Nightfall would bring relief and a new set of problems. I always heard that stargazing from the desert is remarkable, that without light pollution the entire sky looks different, brighter, busier, but I’d never done it. Here I was in the desert and still wouldn’t get the chance. I doubted I’d be alive by twilight.

            I considered dying where I sat—it wouldn’t take long—but I wasn’t ready to give up the prospect of impossibility. So I got off my ass and started walking. 

* * * 

Nobody has ever found my father’s remains, so technically he could be alive. He’s not yet legally dead but I haven’t seen him for eleven years. I long ago accepted that he’s gone but it’s not like a normal death with a viewing and a funeral and then everyone gets on with things. Mom and I were in limbo for months, years, when we just sort of decided that he’s not coming back. But because he was never found, there’s always that tiny bit of uncertainty, that remote possibility he’s somewhere in the world, locked in a dungeon or enjoying life with a new alias and a different family. I’ll never know for sure, which I suppose is a way of saying he’s dead even if he’s physically alive.

            I remember knowing something was wrong well before my mom confessed that he was missing. For weeks she was tense and temperamental, yelling on the phone and entertaining a parade of visitors who never smiled. A bunch of cameramen showed up at our house one morning. I came downstairs to find the living room crammed with soundboards and cameras, mom off to the side whispering to some man with a fancy black suit and perfect hair. Teachers started being extra-gentle, to the point of annoyance. Friends no longer wanted to play with me. I felt dangerous, grotesque, like I had something contagious.

            When she sat me down to explain that dad might not be coming home for a while, I didn’t cry or ask questions. I’d noticed his absence among the crowds glumly cluttering our space. I didn’t know why he was gone, only that he traveled a lot and always came home, usually with a box of candy or a stuffed animal (which I figured out later in life he bought at the airport). I was concerned and all but it was almost a casual worry because I assumed he’d eventually show up. It never occurred to me that his absence would be permanent.

What People Are Saying

Daughter, Son, Assassin is a brilliant debut novel from one of Palestine’s bravest and most trusted intellectuals.” Susan Abulhawa, author of Against the Loveless World

“At times both sensitive and incendiary, Daughter, Son, Assassin is a meditation on parenting, friendship, the push and pull of diaspora over generations and the politics of conciliation to empire—in the form of a thriller. Steven Salaita’s debut novel is a fabulous and necessary read.” Kareem Rabie, author of Palestine Is Throwing a Party and the Whole World Is Invited and Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Tags: Common Notions ....... Fiction ....... Middle East and North Africa ....... Palestine ....... Steven Salaita .......