Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Normal Calm by Hend Hegazi

Nursing my little one means I have to sit still, something I am not good at and so I thought that this would be a good time to get reading again. Normal Calm by Hend Hegazi piqued my interest after a saw a review on Muslimah Media Watch, particularly as it broached themes that I hadn't seen touched on in Western literature before in this way.

A Normal Calm is the story of the young Arab American Muslimah Amina who finds herself the victim of rape by someone she trusts. The book follows her on her journey as she tries to come to terms with what has happened to her and the impact on those around her. It also explores the way in her wider community deal with what has happened to her, in particular potential spouses.

All of this is set in the context of Arab American life: the immigrant work ethic, the wish to see children succeed, the anxiety of parents at the prospect of letting their children go as they move forward in their lives. The book also addresses the problems someone who can clearly be identified as Muslim might face in America and the way Muslims integrate and interact with those around them.

The subject matter of this book is dealt with in a sensitive way and the attack on Amina which is fairly early in the book is not graphic or portrayed in a sensationalist way. Instead the book takes the time to follow Amina as she goes through the process of dealing with what has happened to her and how it impacts on her relationship with her parents, friends and potential partners.

The book is written in clear direct prose and moves between events at a fairly swift pace, which is enough to carry you through the book without losing interest so that you maintain a desire to find out how Amina fares. Alongside this the author makes use of dialogue between Amina and her non-Muslim best friend Kayla to try and explain why, as a Muslimah, Amina does things a certain way. This acts as a useful tool throughout the book to explain the role of faith in Amina’s life, the way it helps her in her hardest times and the role of particular elements of her faith (i.e. hijab). You can imagine many of these conversations happening between Muslims and curious non-Muslims in the real world.

I really loved the fact that the author gives a voice to a young Muslim woman – a demographic that is much stereotyped but sometimes not well understood. The book attempts to shine a light on the difficulties that these young women face in the West and also the lack of understanding that can come from their own communities and the reasons behind these.

The book left me with affection with Amina and some of the women around her and also some curiosity about the male characters in the book. I would definitely recommend this book, particularly to anyone trying to understand the role of faith in the lives of young Muslims and how this impacts the way they see and are seen by the world. A necessary and important book.

You can find out more at: Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook

Monday, 21 July 2014

Ilyas and Duck Search for Allah by Omar Khawaja

I like to see new books for Muslims for two reasons - one because I think we need to ensure that in the multitude of narratives about Muslims, some of the voices need to come from Muslim's themselves - particularly Muslim's that might not ordinarily get heard - such as women. The second reason is that it is good to see the needs of Muslim’s fulfilled through products and services tailored to us.

This is why I like to support independent Muslim publishers such as Green Bird Books, Gentle Breeze Books, FB Publishing and now Little Big Kids Books. So when the latter asked me if I wanted to review their book, I was interested.

The book is aimed at ages 3-6 years old and inspired by the Quranic ayah:

"Verily, in the heavens and the earth are signs for the believers.  And in your creation, and what He scattered (through the earth) of moving (living) creatures are signs for people who have Faith with certainty." ~ Quran 45:3-4

The book follows 5-year old Ilyas who asks the big question “Where is Allah?” Accompanied by his best friend Duck, Ilyas sets out on a journey to try and find out where Allah is.

It follows the two friends through a range of landscapes asking the animals that inhabit them allowing the answer to be revealed a little at a time.

The thing I liked the most about this book is the second reason I gave at the beginning of this post - it answers a need.  I remember when Gorgeous was very small he would ask me endless questions about the nature of Allah (SWT): Where He was, how He made everyone, where He came from, how He could be if no one made Him.  I tried my best to answer those questions, but often struggled.  This book is a nice attempt at answering those kinds of questions that lots of Muslim parents will get asked.

The drawings are also bright and attractive and the bright book cover caught my children's attention.  There is a glossary at the end with facts about each animal, explaining how to pronounce it's name and pointing out why it is so special.

I'm looking forward to sharing this book with Darling when she is a little older and has big questions of her own.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Book Review: Home by Toni Morrison

My concentration is pretty shot at the moment, I keep getting books from the library, reading a few pages and then returning them without finishing them. Because of this Toni Morrison’s Home appealed to me for two reasons: it is a very slim book and I thought I should at least be able to manage that and I am a fan of Toni Morrison’s books, so I knew they should be able to hold my attention.

Home tells the story of a brother and sister, Frank and Cee, born into a rural Georgia town populated solely by black people and characterised by poverty and sadness. The book tells of their desperation to get away from a town too small for them, whether through service in the homes of the rich or through joining the army, and their subsequent return to the small town, drawn by the love between them.

The small town of Lotus is a place where the local black population have settled, many of them having been chased out of their previous homes at gunpoint. They make it their own with their own version of small town life: church-going ladies, quilt making, vegetable gardens and canning season.

Frank has returned from the army suffering from survivors guilt and what seems like post-traumatic stress and vows never to return to his home town, only to receive a letter asking him to hurry back urgently to help his sister. We join him on his journey witnessing along the way the effect war has had on him and the indignities he suffers despite his service for his country.

The book is frank in its portrayal of the brutality of war and the treatment of black soldiers following a conflict, racism and the way women are exploited. It turns a spotlight onto all of the main characters highlighting their weaknesses and vulnerabilities, so that few are left with our sympathy, although some still have out pity.

It is also an narrative on the concept of home, how a place can feel restrictive and too small for the young, but offer solace and a refuge from the wider world for those same people later in life. How the same people that seem staid or judgemental can appear strong and wise when the need arises.

Through the separate journeys of Frank and Cee we are also offered up alternative versions of home: the beautiful home full of plenty where Cee finds work but where dangers lurks, the home that Lily, Franks partner, yearns for, only to find money alone is not enough to buy it

Home is a short book, but certainly not an easy read. The language is blunt and direct and the experience of the characters painful. Not only are we not left with a neat happy ending, but we are left unable to fully sympathise with the main character as his experience of is finally laid bare. The book does stay with you after you have finished reading. It feels as if a dozen more stories could emerge from the layers beneath this story , there are so many events and experiences that are hinted at and alluded to that you end up with endless questions and half-stories in your mind that pique your curiosity and keep you thinking after you have set the book down.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Book Review: The Inferior by Peadar Ó Guilín

One good thing came out of feeling quite unwell recently; I picked up a book to distract me.  I needed something easy to follow and not too pretentious or deep.  I picked this up because of the review excerpt used on the front that said it would remind the reader why they loved sci-fi in the first place.  I am a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, but I find it can be challenging to work though all of the mediocre to find the best books.  Although the book was dumped in the adults section, I noticed in the inside cover it said “teen”.  I decided to get it anyway, some of the children’s and teen literature in English is amazing, certainly in comparison to the reams of uninteresting adult literature I find myself having to trawl through to find something that will hold my broken attention.

The book is set in a future version of what appears to be earth inhabited by numerous species alongside man which survive by hunting each other.  Each inhabits its own section of the land and makes forays into that of others to hunt.  When unable to hunt, species trade members of their own group with those of another to eat.  Amongst humans, those who can hunt and work and valued and those who start to age or become disabled in any way are encouraged to volunteer to exchange themselves with other species as food for their tribe.

In this world we are introduced to Stopmouth, a young man ridiculed because of his stammer and seen as a potential volunteer for his tribe unless he can bring back significant amounts of food.  In the midst of one such hunt for food, a beautiful young woman falls out of the sky (or roof as it is called), bringing with her knowledge of healing and tantalising hints of the origins of the tribe and of a more “civilised” tribe of humans beyond the “roof”

I find that the best sci-fi takes something recognisable and familiar and mixes it with elements that are completely new or alien.  In this way we buy into the world and can bring ourselves to believe the strange elements.  In The Inferior, the world we are introduced to is almost completely unrecognisable.  It took me quite a way into the book to get an understanding of the way the tribe worked and understand a bit more about the woman – Indrani.

The book starts by establishing the state of the world and then turns into the story of a journey.  It is very creative in the range of species and their characteristics and details about the customs and lives of the tribe.  I found this an easy read that I got through in a few hours.  In my enthusiasm for the tribes back story and of Indrani’s origins I raced through the book. 

By the end I was keen for the characters to survive and to do well and I had gained some insight, but still was left with far more questions than answers.

This book raises some uncomfortable questions about who can really be described as civilised, how far we can go to protect our tribe and our lives and about the eating of flesh of other sentient species.

Amazing Book Art