Looking West is the story of a Lebanese boy who, in 1960, at the age of fourteen, emigrates with his family from Beirut, Lebanon to the United States. During the early years, he strives to assimilate and become a successful American. When the locals in Albany, N.Y. have difficulty with his Lebanese name, “Nasib,” he adopts his father’s name, “Albert,” and the nickname “Al.” Al’s complex coming-of-age journey to assimilate into American culture spans the 1950s through the 1970s, when he returns to Lebanon for the first time with his American bride.
Al initially struggles socially as an immigrant teenager with limited English-language skills. Making friends, learning new customs, and adapting to a different culture are difficult and often frustrating. Whereas Al’s family had been well known and socially privileged in Beirut, in America, they were unknown nobodies. The anonymity inspires him, and excited by the opportunities available to him in America, he plows ahead, determined to make a potent contribution to society.
As he strives to adapt, Al reads voraciously, becoming increasingly interested in religion and philosophy. Books become his “American friends,” and reading soon prompts him to ask deep theological questions about his family’s Lebanese Protestant roots, his mother’s conversion to Catholicism, and the contrast between the Protestant and Catholic faiths. This ultimately leads to his Catholic conversion.
His desire to make a meaningful contribution to society leads him from social activism to social work among New York City’s poorest, and in time, to graduate studies. Raising deep and challenging questions on improving the human condition through information technology, Al presses forward pursuing his adolescent desire to strive for his place in the “realm of the mind.”