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[personal profile] emma_in_dream
Pearl, now five, is besotted with this book, the story of a little girl participating in her aunt's wedding She likes that they go to the hairdresser and get their hair curled. She likes that they have pretty dresses to wear. Even Ruby, aged two and a half, likes the drama of the flower girl dress at first not fitting! Oh no! But the dress maker fixes it!

The author has also written *The Glory Garage: Growing Up Lebanese Muslim in Australia* which I now want to read. Her biographical note says she has a passion for promoting understanding between Anglo-Australian culture and Islamic culture in Australia and that she has three little girls who like playing dress ups and getting married.
ext_939: Sheep wearing an eyepatch (skywardprodigal Cog Flowers)
[identity profile] spiralsheep.livejournal.com
16. I read I Speak for the Devil by Imtiaz Dharker. Her poetry tends to confessional style, which I usually dislike, but Dharker uses that style to speak for herself and her characters so skillfully that I enjoyed this collection throughout. The language and structures are deceptively simple but manage to convey complexities and deeper meanings. The whole collection is complemented by Dharker's own illustrations, which highlight her interest in bodies and embodiments. I offer you two samples: the more intellectually representative poem and the more sensually typical poem.

Tags: british, scottish, islam, muslim, calvinist, british-asian, poetry
pauraque: bird flying (Default)
[personal profile] pauraque
This is a broad and wide-ranging introduction to Islam, and assumes the reader has no prior knowledge of the subject. (I didn't, so that worked for me.) A lot of time is spent on the origins and ancient history of the religion, including the cultural background of the region and how the very earliest Muslims lived and practiced their faith.

The middle section, after Muhammad's death but before the modern face of Islam had really arisen, kind of lost my attention. Too many names, dates, and battles, and I wasn't sure how it all fit together in the bigger picture. Aslan is knowledgeable but his style is pretty dry. I felt like asking if this was all going to be on the test.

Things picked up more when he got into discussion of the divisions between Sunni, Shi'a, Sufi, and their own subdivisions, and modern attempts to create Muslim states and how they've gone about it differently. This is where it really shows, though, that it's just a general introduction. It seemed he took on more than he could do justice to in a short-ish book. A number of interesting topics are brought up but then given only cursory treatment.

Aslan himself is a liberal Shi'ite, and he definitely puts forth his own views, not only on what Islam is, but on what it *ought* to be, religiously, culturally, and politically. I don't think arguing one's own position is bad -- it's certainly better than pretending to be neutral when you're not -- but again, the book seemed like it was being too many things at once. Is it a quick historical overview for beginners, or an argument for Islamic democracy, liberalism, and pluralism? It's both, and in a way that ultimately didn't read as cohesive for me.

tags: a: Aslan Reza, Iranian-American, Muslim, subject: Islam, genre: non-fiction
[identity profile] puritybrown.livejournal.com
38: The No-Nonsense Guide to Islam by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn-Davies

A recent mention of this book by blogger and all-round fascinating person Yakoub Islam of Steampunk Shariah reminded me that I've had it on the shelf for ages and I really should actually read it, because it's not like the information is going to leach into my brain by sheer proximity. It's a short guide to Islam and the Islamic world -- principles, concepts, origin, history, and present condition -- written by two Muslims who are friends and frequent collaborators; Sardar is a well-known writer and broadcaster and a bit of a name in cultural criticism, while Wyn-Davies has an anthropological background.

It's probably impossible to talk about a subject as huge and contentious as Islam from a neutral perspective, and Sardar and Davies don't try. The way they make their beliefs and point of view so clear makes the book a great deal more valuable for me -- if they had made a claim of objectivity, I would have found myself trying to read between the lines all the time. As it is, I know perfectly well that they have an agenda in writing this book, and I can make up my own mind whether they've made their case. For my money, they have. This book is designed not to convert unbelievers to Islam, but to convey basic information and uncover myths and misconceptions about Islam that are widely held in the West and that have caused untold damage throughout the world, poisoning relations between Muslim and Christian cultures and fueling war and oppression. Their primary concern is to refute the Orientalist preconception of Islamic cultures as inferior and Islam as inherently inimical to the West; but at the same time, Sardar and Davies are critical of reactionary movements within Islam which threaten to ossify the religion and suppress some of its finest qualities -- in particular, the love of reason, justice, and knowledge of all kinds.

Needless to say, you can't go into much depth in less than 150 pages, and this is definitely a starting-point rather than a definitive exploration; in trying to cover 1300+ years of history as well as the basic theology and current situation of Islam, the book ends up being very dense, and a few of the historical sections dragged for me (I'm more interested in social/economic/cultural history than political history, so the bits that were mostly about one dynasty succeeding another made my eyes glaze over). There's a bibliography at the end which offers a few pointers for the reader who wants to look a little deeper -- one of the books included is another one I've had on the shelf for a while, Farid Esack's On Being a Muslim.

(tags: a: sardar ziauddin, w-a: wyn-davies merryl, pakistani-british, islam)

(Edited because I spelled Ziauddin Sardar's name wrong in the tags. Oops.)
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
11. Farahad Zama, The Marriage Bureau for Rich People

Mr. Ali, a recently-retired Muslim man living in a city in South India, finds he has too much time on his hands. So, what to do but open a marriage bureau? It's sort of like a dating service, but with an emphasis on caste instead of personality-matching quizzes (emphasis on looks and occupations are universal, though). Secondary characters include Mr. Ali's estranged son, Rehman, who is a human rights activist; Aruna, a poor Hindu girl he hires as a secretary who is secretly worried about her own marriage prospects; and, of course, Mrs. Ali.

This book is being marketed to fans of "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series, and I have to agree that if you like them, you will almost certainly like this new book as well. They share a similar simplistic-but-charming writing style, a focus on traditional values, and evocative descriptions of the beauty in rural and natural scenes. Zama's book is a bit marred by a heavy reliance on "As You Know, Bob" language to convey information about Indian weddings and marriages to the reader, but hey, if you don't know much about that topic, it's certainly an easy way to learn.

A fun, breezy book, with a very predictable happy ending. However, it's clearly aiming itself at an audience who's only looking for light reading, and it achieves its goal of being pleasant read.
[identity profile] seekingferret.livejournal.com
46) The Shia Revival by Vali Nasr

This is a survey of Shia history, culture, and politics by an Iranian-American academic. Nasr has several big theses: That Shia states would make a better ally for the West in the Middle East than Sunni states, that the Shia world is experiencing a revival of identity and culture as it challenges Sunni domination, but all are overshadowed by one primary theme: The West has historically done a poor job of understanding Shiism, and this needs to change fast.

I found I was mostly reading it as a vocabulary book, because it was stunning to me how words whose Western meaning I understand well hold totally different valences when you understand the history of Shiism and Sunnism in the Middle East. Words like 'democracy' or 'freedom' don't mean what I thought they meant. I feel like I've been having conversations for the past ten years where everyone was talking at crosspurposes, and I'm just now realizing.

Taking democracy as an example, some Shiite clerics have spent the past century positioning what I would term Islamic theocracy (velāyat-e faqīh) as the true democracy, because Islamic law is the true representation of the will of the people. This is by no means the only definition of democracy in circulation that Nasr shows, but Nasr vividly illustrates how this definition, which didn't originate with Khomeini but which he perhaps most prominently brought to the fore, influences even the most Western-minded Middle Easterners' understanding of the concept.

After brief but important discussion of the origins of Shiism and its historical touchstones (important because Nasr continually makes callbacks to these touchstones, showing how memories of Ali and Umar, memories of the Safavids and the Ottomans, continually influences the conversation in the Middle East in a similar way to how references to the Framers constantly influence American ideology and politics), Nasr spends most of the book on the political landscape of the past 30 years, essentially from the Iranian Revolution to today, showing how a major theme in the Middle Eastern political scene has been Shiites discovering a voice and learning how to use it. He spends a lot of time on the Iraq war, naturally given the book's publication in 2006, and the framework he has laid for understanding the war's Shia/Sunni dynamic in previous chapters makes his sections on the Iraq War incredibly potent. For me it was a string of sudden realizations, moments of shock when my past understanding of a concept combined with some new premise about Shia/Sunni politics to generate a new, deeper and more complicated vision of the war.
[identity profile] sairaali.livejournal.com
I've totally lost track of where I was with this for 2010, so I'm starting over.

1. Secret Son by Laila Lalami

Youssef el Mekki is the son of a widow and orphan, or so he thinks. As Youssef finishes school in the slums of Hay an Najat and prepares for public university, he forces his mother to confess that his father was not a school teacher who died in a freak accident, but in fact, one of the most powerful men in Casablanca. As The Party, a hardline religious political group, moves into the slums, simultaneously providing for the people's material needs while radicalizing the jobless young graduates, Youssef struggles to enter his father's world of corrupt liberalism.

Although politics and ideology form most of the background of this story, this is not a political book, or a book about politics. The book is entirely about relationships, between Youssef and his friends, his mother, and his father; between his father, Nabil, and his wife, his daughter, and his illegitimate son; between Youssef's mother Rachida, and her lover, her former employer, and her own father.

This book has heft and weight to it. The prose is beautifully written, and would speed right by if it weren't for the emotional resonance of the story. As it was, I had to stop frequently to breathe and to put some distance between myself and Youssef's pain. The ending, when it came, was both heartbreaking and inevitable.

My only complaint with the writing is the pacing. Some of the middle portions were too drawn out, almost painfully so. The ending, while in many ways inevitable, was also rushed and choppy. Even though I believed the characters' motivations, I felt in some ways like the author was shying away from showing us the same emotional range there that she did earlier in the story.

2. Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemison

Yeine is the daughter of the disowned heir of the Arameri, the powerful ruling family of her world, and a minor noble from an impoverished and politically weak district. She wants nothing more than to be a good leader to her father's people, but shortly after her mother dies, she is summoned to the capitol city of Sky. Dakarta, her estranged grandfather, ruler of the hundred thousand kingdoms, demands her attendance at court and she cannot refuse. She quickly gets swept up into court intrigue as the struggle for who will succeed Dakarta. As she struggles to secure her position in the palace, she finds unlikely allies and realizes that the God's War that made the Arameri kings in the first place is not exactly over. Caught between gods and nobles, Yeine eventually finds a way out of the viper's den that is Sky.

So many people have been reading and reviewing this since it came out that I feel like another review would be superfluous. Also, this book delighted me so much that I'm having trouble thinking of anything coherent to say about it other than, OMG! Everyone must read it!

One of the biggest criticisms of this book that I've read is that Yeine is too passive, and allows events to happen to her instead of taking action. But, that's what I love most about Yeine, that she's not an over-powered heroine. She's a minor noble from a tiny district, with no skills at political intrigue, and no power at her disposal and it shows. Yet even with all her disadvantages, she does her best in the few days (the actions of the book all take place in less than a week) she has, in order to figure out what's going on, find allies, and make choices that will radically change her life. She has little to no control over most of her circumstances, but still manages to exercise agency in how she reacts to them, and how she relates to the other beings who cross her path.

I also really like the cosmology of the universe, where the "Bright" sun-god is anything but good, and the "evil" night-god is far more sympathetic than the role is usually allowed in most fantasy.

It really is fantastic, and y'all should all read it!
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
[personal profile] zeborah
Lucian of Samosata
- The True History
- Icaromenippus, An Aerial Expedition
Ibn al-Nafīs - Theologus Autodidacticus
Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain - Sultana's Dream
Naif Al-Mutawa - The 99: Origins

Sometimes when reading old things that have been called "early science-fiction" I think "Well, that's not really very science-y," but while I was reading these I thought more about what was known of science in the times they were written, and about how even some modern stuff doesn't fit my sometimes exacting preferences for storytelling, and decided that these all definitely count each in their ways. Lucian does the fantastic voyage; Ibn al-Nafīs the message story; Hussain the utopia. And of course the 99 doesn't need any explanations, it's just a modern superhero series.

Long post behind cut )Also of interest: Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad's website Islam and Science Fiction.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
40. Reza Aslan, How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror

A non-fiction pop book dealing with a wide range of subjects, from the history of the state of Israel, to the difference between Islamist groups like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Jihadist groups like al-Qa'ida (as well as the inaccuracy of referring to al-Qa'ida as any kind of unified group), to historical examples of other 'cosmic wars' such as the Crusades or the Zealot rebellions of the Roman Empire, to the history of Fundamentalist Christianity in the United States, to others. He doesn't always tie these many, many topics together as tightly as one might wish, but if you look at the book as a smorgasbord of various information about the "war on terror", it's a pretty awesome book.

One of my favorite things about Aslan is that he's a much more lyrical, thoughtful writer than I tend to expect from pop non-fiction. Let me quote a paragraph at you: "When I close my eyes, I see white. Strange how synesthetic memory can be. I am certain the insular town of Enid, Oklahoma, where my family alighted three decades ago, was chockablock with buildings, homes, churches, parks. And surely other seasons came and went in the stretch of time we lived there, months when the city's empty streets were not blanketed in snow and the sky did not rumble with dark and silvery clouds. But I remember none of that. Only the clean, all-encompassing whiteness of Enid, Oklahoma, snow as it heaped on the sidewalks, perched on the trees, and settled evenly over the glassy lake." See? How can you not be willing to spend a couple of hundred pages with the man, even if he wasn't telling you fascinating, important things.

Overall, I think I prefer Aslan's other book, No God But God, to this one, but for a broad summary of many things relating to modern Middle Eastern politics and the American response, this book is great.
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[identity profile] kyuuketsukirui.livejournal.com
Title: Does My Head Look Big in This?
Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah
Number of Pages: 360 pages
My Rating: 3.5/5

Amal is a sixteen-year-old Palestinian-Australian girl attending a mostly-white prep school. When the new semester starts, she decides she wants to wear the hijab full-time, even though she knows she's just letting herself in for even more harrassment from her clueless classmates.

This is a cute story. It seems like a pretty typical YA chick-lit story. The girls are all very girly and into fashion and makeup and boys, and there's boy trouble and mean girls screaming at parents who Just Don't Understand and all that sort of thing. But it's nice to see that sort of story with a Muslim protagonist.

I really liked that she wasn't the only Muslim in the story, either. She wasn't standing in for all Muslim women; there were her family members, her friends Yasmeen and Leila and their families, and mentions of the kids at the Islamic school Amal used to go to.

Reading this felt almost as nostalgic as Alex Sanchez's The God Box did. Even though I was raised in a conservative Christian family, not Muslim, a lot of what Amal said felt very familiar (I was never personally religious the way she is, but I certainly knew many people who were/are).

The writing isn't that great. I'm really over this first-person info-dump thing that seems to be so popular. I don't mind first-person narration, but it's possible to tell a story without first giving me a whole chapter about the narrator's life story, really.

Mooch from BookMooch.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
35. Diana Abu-Jaber, Crescent

Oh, this book. I wish I could quote the entire thing at you; the language is gorgeous and perfect and there are so many bits of it floating in my head. This is the most wonderful thing I've read in ages. Okay, just a few quotes:

Describing Sir Richard Burton: He did, however, like so many Victorians, have an aptitude for ownership, an attachment to things material and personal, like colonies and slaves- he especially enjoyed owning slaves while living in someone else's house.

Two people discussing a fairy tale: I didn't know that business about the Queen of Sheba. That she was so beautiful. That it could make you go crazy.
It was one of her more salient characteristics.

Describing food: The potatoes are soft as velvet, the gravy satiny. It is as if she can taste the life inside all those ingredients: the stem that the cranberries grew on, the earth inside the bread, even the warm blood that was once inside the turkey.

The food porn in this book is amazing. I was left with a deep craving for hummus with olive oil, mjaddarah, lamb with garlic... all the amazing Middle Eastern food Abu-Jaber describes.

I suppose I should actually describe what this book is about. Sirine is a mixed-race woman, her father Iraqi and her mother European-American, who was born and has never left Los Angeles. She works as the chef at a Lebanese restaurant in the Iranian section of LA, and lives with her uncle, who is a professor at a nearby college. When she meets Han, a writer in exile from Iraq, they start a relationship and she has to deal with questions of exile, home, secrets, and so on. Interspersed with and weaving through the main plot is a long-running story told by Sirine's uncle, supposedly about his cousin, but which reads more like a fairy tale or a Sufi parable (though the uncle insists that it has no moral), full of mermaids, djinns, the Mother of the Nile, and lost tribes of Bedouin. The book is set in 1999, which means the political situation is a bit different from today; I kept being confused until I figured out when it was set.

But a description of the plot doesn't do much to capture the book, since, really, relatively little happens in it. It's full of beautifully described ordinary moments, lush cooking scenes, vivid evocations of both LA and Iraq (having only been to LA once, I can't say how accurate those scenes are, though they're amazing to read. The Iraq scenes, though, captured exactly my memories of Syria and made me long to go for a visit). It can be hilariously funny at points (I loved the mythical Hal'Awud), though it's a fairly serious book overall. The language is so poetic that reading it made me feel dreamy and content.

This post is getting long, so let me just say that I highly, highly recommend this book. I'll be seeking out other things by the author.
[identity profile] sweet-adelheid.livejournal.com
#35 - Michelle Cooper, The Rage of Sheep
YA lit by an author I already loved, but only recently discovered was a POC. Hester (like the author) is Indian-Fijian/Australian, growing up in a country town in NSW. The characters are marvellous, as are both plot and subplots. More here

#36 - Waleed Aly, People Like Us: How Arrogance is Dividing Islam and the West
Thinking a book is fabulous does not necessarily mean that one agrees with every word. This is one of those books. I think I'm more willing to mentally argue with the author because we're so very much of the same generation that we were in the same law school class. More here

#37 - Edna Tantjingu Williams and Eileen Wani Wingfield, illustrated by Kunyi June-Anne McInerney, Down the Hole Up the Tree Across the Sandhills...: ...Running from the State and Daisy Bates
Heart breaking. Heart shattering. Just as it ought to be. A really great, and effective, story of the realities of the Stolen Generations. In English with use of Yankunytjatjara, Kokatha and Matutjara languages (with translations and pronunciation guide). More here

#38 - Mary Malbunka, When I Was Little, Like You
The story of growing up as an indigenous child in a remote community: of moving around, of living as much as they could off the land. Beautiful illustrations, also by Malbunka. Uses Luritja words as well as English: as with Down the Hole the book includes a glossary and pronunciation guide. This is going to be one of those books I automatically buy as presents for every little baby I have a connection with. More here

Tagging - a: malbunka mary, a: williams edna tantjingu, a: wingfield eileen wani, a: cooper michelle, a: aly waleed, i: mcinerney kunyi june-anne, fijian-indian-australian, egyptian-australian
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
30. Reza Aslan, No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam

I adored this book. It's a non-fiction book detailing Islam as a religion; about half of it is devoted to an incredibly detailed description of life and culture in the Arabian peninsula immediately before and during Mohammad's life. The second half of the book lays out some of the most prominent evolutions of Islam since then, from the basic branches of Sunni, Shia, and Sufism, to more recent developments like Iran's Khomeinism to Saudi Arabia's Wahhabism.

This book was fantastic. It's perfect both for the reader who knows nothing about Islam and the educated reader. It contains so many details and interesting perspectives that I think there's something new for everyone to learn*, and yet it lays things out so clearly that it's also a great introduction. Aslan is a wonderful writer; despite it being a non-fiction book, it has a very conversational tone, which is totally engaging and enthralling. I have not read many non-fiction books that have sucked me in like this one.

Very, very highly recommended, and I'll be checking out Aslan's other book.

In particular, I spent a lot of time shrieking "Oh my God! Did you know this?!" during the section about Britain's role in the formation of Saudi Arabia.
[identity profile] rootedinsong.livejournal.com
29. Ten Things I Hate About Me, by Randa Abdel-Fattah

I liked this a lot more than Does My Head Look Big In This? Real, honest examination of passing, dual consciousness, and holding on to one's cultural identity.

One thing that got on my nerves about it was the protagonist's older sister, who is one of these "smart kids" and uses (or is portrayed as using) strings of big words that actually don't make much sense. That's a particular pet peeve of mine...

30. Persepolis (complete edition), by Marjane Satrapi

I really liked this. Comparing this to a lot of other books that portray authoritarian regimes, real or fictional, really illustrates for me one of the main things that [livejournal.com profile] 50books_poc is about: the viewpoint matters.

So many books depict the horrors of a regime and the devastation it wreaks on the citizens, emphasizing how resistance is crushed and the people's spirits are broken. This shows oppression, but not the breaking of spirits; it shows the little everyday resistances, the extent to which the regime does not control the people, the fact that the people are emphatically still human and life is still life.

And the book is not about that. It's about the author's own story.

31. No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, by Reza Aslan

I read this on [livejournal.com profile] sheafrotherdon's recommendation. I agree with her assessment: it's really beautifully written, really clear, and really engaging. (And I find most books of history to be excruciatingly boring.)

The author starts with a depiction of the society in which the Prophet Muhammad lived and goes on to explain the social and religious reforms that he championed, the reception of his message, and the evolution of Islamic thought, practice, and politics from then until the present day. I kept thinking, "Oh, that makes so much sense now!" or "Now I understand what people mean when they say..." (It shed a lot of light on books on Islam that I've previously reviewed here.)

At the end, he argues for a reformation within Islam - new ways of understanding the religion, formulations of an indigenous Islamic conception of democracy. (It actually reminded me a lot of what I said in my review of The Whale Rider - he doesn't think of it in terms of a conflict between Western conceptions of human rights and the traditions of Islam, but in terms of Islam evolving, reforming itself from within.)

[identity profile] rootedinsong.livejournal.com
15. Why I Am a Muslim, by Asma Gull Hasan

There was very little I liked about this book. Although it's directed towards adults, it is written in a very simplistic, repetitious style, as if the intended audience were twelve-year-olds. I read it because I do not know much about Islam and wanted to learn more, but it didn't teach me very much of interest.

The author is very focused on convincing her readers (who are assumed to be non-Muslims who have very little accurate information about Islam) that Islam is not a religion of terrorism, women's oppression, and intolerance of all other religions, and that these things are actually un-Islamic. Most of the information she gives about Islam is in service to these goals; this is not sufficient to provide a real picture of what Islam is like and what Muslims believe and practice, which is what I was looking for. She also does what seems to me to be exegetical gymnastics to explain away passages in the Qur'an that don't fit into her modern liberal conceptions of equality and religious tolerance (as I have seen liberal Christians do with the Bible); I don't think these issues can really be that simple.

I found the last chapter, "Because Being Muslim Makes Me a Better American (And Being American Makes Me a Better Muslim)," to be very problematic. The author says, "What surprises many Muslims and non-Muslims alike are the many striking parallels between the principles of Islam and the founding ideals of the United States..." and goes on to list what she sees as elements that Islam and American ideals have in common, such as social justice, freedom of speech, diversity, and capitalism, uncritically praising the US for these things; she seems to have almost no skepticism about the rosy myth of the American dream. This paragraph especially bothered me:

Like all American schoolchildren, I learned about Columbus's journey to America. He was looking for India, though, not America. When the Native Americans greeted him on the shore, he called them "Indians" because he thought he had found India. The purpose of his search for India was to overcome Muslim control of the East Indies spice trade. The "discovery" of America was motivated by a desire to outflank Muslims. How funny that in pursuit of Spain's policy against Muslims, Columbus, who had been commissioned by Spain, inadvertently found America? Years later, America would become home to over seven million Muslims, maybe even as many as twenty million. The country that Columbus has been credited for "discovering" would stand for the same principles of the religion his voyage was meant to undermine.

I do want to take into account the forces that would drive her not to be critical of the US in a book defending Islam - many people in her intended audience would probably take substantial criticism of the US to be a confirmation of the worst stereotypes and slanders they had heard.

Does anyone know of a better book on the topic?

(Edit: too many tags again)
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
25. Amjed Qamar, Beneath My Mother's Feet

A young adult novel about Nazia, a 14-year-old in a working-class family in Karachi, Pakistan. Nazia is smart, doing well in school, and engaged to her cousin. However, when her father is injured and loses his job, things quickly go downhill. Nazia's mother gets a job cleaning houses, and Nazia is forced to drop out of school to help.

This book was seriously brutal in the multitude of bad things which happen to Nazia and her family. It never came off as unbelievable or emotionally manipulative, but it was shocking to see how little a supportive net there was available for this family, and how quickly they lost everything. Overall, this wasn't even a depressing book, mainly because of Nazia, who is a strong and optimistic character. She may have a bit too much faith in people, but she relies on herself, and ends up finding her own solution. Recommended.

Also, wheeeee! Halfway to the goal!
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
19. Tariq Ali, Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree

I really wanted to like this book. I was so excited for it. And then, sadly, it just didn't live up to my expectations. It's so disappointing when that happens!

Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree is set in 1500, just a few years after the Reconquest of the city-kingdom of Granada, the last of the Muslim kingdoms in the Iberian peninsula to fall to the Spanish Christians. Although the peace agreement signed at the time promised that Muslims could continue to practice their faith and speak Arabic, the tide has been turning against them; the novel opens with a scene of Arabic books being burnt. For Muslims in Granada, there are basically three choices: leave their home and move to Africa or the Middle East; convert to Christianity; or attempt to fight the Christians and take back their land (a pretty much hopeless cause, given the relative military strengths of the Muslims and Christians). The main focus of the story is one family of wealthy Muslims who are dealing with these changes and watching how it affects their friends and family. They debate these choices, some people choosing one and some another, and the novel shows the consequences of their decisions. Despite all this, there's a lot of upbeat and cheerful scenes in the novel, such as the courtship of a daughter of the family, or the youngest son's attempts to beat people at chess.

That's all fine: the plot is interesting, the characters are well-drawn. The problem I had with the book was the writing itself. It came off to me very much like a first draft. There were a lot of little not-quite-right phrasings, people abruptly appearing or disappearing from scenes, awkward dialogue, and historical details that seemed off (like the scene where the family is described as eating tomatoes and red chilis. Both of these plants are native to the Americas, and though Christopher Columbus did bring back some peppers from his second trip to the Americas, and so I suppose it's just possible, if unlikely, that they spread quickly enough to be a common food a mere seven years later, Europeans don't seem to encounter tomatoes until almost fifty years after this scene is set. I know this is a little nitpicky detail, but there were lots of things like this that bugged me). Overall, it just seemed like it needed the author to look over it another time.

I finished the book, and enjoyed parts of it, but I can't say that I liked it well enough to recommend it, though people who are less bothered by writing style than I am may have no problem. If anyone knows of any other books about Al-Andalus, I'd love to know! I do already have Ornament of the World on my reading list.


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