• Current Reads

      Life after Life Jill McCorkle
      This Is Your Captain Speaking Jon Methven
      The Starboard Sea Amber Dermont
      Snark David Denby
      Bring Up the Bodies Hilary Mantel
  • Popular Tags

  • Recent Reflections

  • Categories

  • Moleskine’s All-Time Favorites

  • Echoes

    The HKIA brings Hong… on [788] Island and Peninsula 島與半…
    Adamos on The Master and Margarita:…
    sumithra MAE on D.H. Lawrence’s Why the…
    To Kill a Mockingbir… on [35] To Kill A Mockingbird…
    Deanna Friel on [841] The Price of Salt (Carol…
    Minnie on [367] The Rouge of the North 怨…
  • Reminiscences

  • Blog Stats

    • 1,081,327 hits
  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,710 other followers

[205] The Writing on My Forehead – Nafisa Haji

forehead1“In the end, Saira, we are all alone. Some of us more than others, perhaps.” [83]
“You have to decide what you want for your life. But don’t be too quick to throw away all of the old to embrace the new.” [215]

Like many teenagers, Saira Qader is free-spirited and rebellious. But unlike her peers, being a Muslim American of Indo-Pakistani descent, under her stern mother’s strict rearing, she knows she has to assert an individualism that is only feasible by getting away from her family.

When Saira was sixteen, she attended her cousin’s wedding in Karachi and then spent a week in London. She learned about the cause of her mother’s misanthropy and jadedness as well as her father’s emotional insipidness. By the dictates of culture, it’s everyone’s responsibility to be subservient, to look into the (economic) interest of the family, making a marriage to a parent-approved spouse the only long-term option. Obligations and duties, which always supersede personal interests and whims, have created the controversies and trauma of the past that Saira’s parents have kept mum.

Your mummy said she would never forgive her father. That he was dead to her. And she kept her word. Never spoke to him again. [41]

Oh, Shabana. You never gave him [Saira’s grandfather] a chance. He wrote to you so many times. You never answered his letters. He talked to me about it, was so hurt that you never wrote to him. He was human, Shabana. Only human. And that is why you are so angry with him. Because you thought of him as perfect— [197]

Her maternal grandfather threw his wife away like trash and ran away with an Englishwoman, who tried to make mend with the family. Her paternal grandfather left his wife for a patriotic cause but ended up having two more wives. From stark recalcitrance, Saira, at the unfolding of her family’s intricate past lives, begins to face what she never wanted to admit—that life is not only about the choices she makes. It dawns on her the true meaning of family is that one is defined by who he is to other people, whereas she has been defining on her own terms, as her mother has been denying her own father for years, refusing any effect of reconciliation. The novel muses on the value of such family network and how it’s a shame and sadness to be rid of it.

You have to decide exactly how many of these things you want to keep and bear the burden of. Don’t alienate your mother. Your values might someday be closer to hers. All she wants is your happiness. [216]

Under the tender influence of a beloved aunt, a literary scholar whose life has inspired her, Saira has become a journalist who pursues the truth of lives forgotten. But in the face of global terrorism that jolts the world and endangers the Muslim identity, Saira has come to terms with the truth of family and that her obligation to them mandates their happiness. An unforeseen tragedy makes her choose between her peripatetic existence and the more traditional (and perhaps more desirable) setup awaiting her at home. Haji’s debut novel is reminiscent of the generational misunderstanding and denial of heritage in The Namesake; and the repression of women in Finding Nouf. My only complaint is that Haji doesn’t reveal more about Mohsin, her gay cousin, who has sported a large view of the world and becomes a journalistic photographer. He is the one who appeals to Saira that sometimes truth can be very dangerous.

306 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] Nafisa Haji lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and a son. She is currently working on her second novel.

8 Responses

  1. This sounds really good. Usually, I’m incredibly skeptical when it comes to books that has Muslims in it, since they’re never done properly. But this one looks interesting.

    Great review!

    ~ Popin

  2. Must add this book to my list.

    Interesting observations. I am glad that more is being written about the Muslim-American culture.

  3. I had this one from the library, but i never found time to read it. Looks good to me.

  4. Wow, I just saw this book today for the first time, ever.
    Being somewhat aware of Christian eschatology, the title caught my attention and I leafed through the book at my local mega-bookstore.
    Thank you for your review.
    Maybe next time I am in the store I will cart this to the cashier!

  5. […] Not Worth the Effort: The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie One Book That is Good to the Last Page: The Writing on My Forehead, Nafisa […]

  6. […] The Writing on My Forehead Nafisa Haji In the face of global terrorism that jolts the world and endangers the Muslim identity, the heroine has come to terms with the truth of family and that her obligation to them mandates their happiness. […]

  7. […] book was The Dialogue of the Dogs by Cervantes (1613). The newest were Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, The Writing on My Forehead by Nafisa Haji, and The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee, all three were released in 2009 and made […]

  8. I think Mohsin is the most interesting character of the book. Maybe one of the most inspiring characters of all the books I’ve read. I wanted to know more about him too. Anyway, this novel is breathtaking…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: