Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Writing on My Forehead-Nafisa Haj

The Writing on My Forehead
Nafisa Haj
Morrow, Mar 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9780061493850

In California, teenager Saira Qader is a second generation Muslim-American whose views on life radically differs from her immigrant parents from India and Pakistan respectively. She even senses the gap between her and her older sister Ameena who married the choice of their parents. Saira wants to attend college like most of her school friends plan to do, but knows her overprotective old country (that is before the 1947 partition) parents want her settled in marriage to someone they choose.

In 1983 at a family wedding in Karachi, fourteen years old Saira attends by herself as her mom and sis refuse. She is stunned to learn her mother lied about her maternal grandfather; instead of being dead, he lives in London far from his days as a Gandhi freedom fighter; he is patriarch to another family with his British soulmate and three offspring. That revelation leads to her going to college where she experiments with drugs and sex; once she graduates she becomes an international war correspondent which leads to an estrangement with her family. A few years later, she comes home as her mom is near death and her sister is a totally devout Muslim. Not long after mother’s death father returns to India while soon after that Ameena is shot in mob retaliation for 9/11 because she wears a hijab. Saira begins to look again at her Asian roots vs. her Americanization.

This is an intriguing glimpse of a Muslim-American family struggling with tradition of the first generation and the assimilation of the second. The story line occurs over a few decades so the audience obtains the metamorphosis, especially of the lead character Saira. The cast in America, London and in Pakistan (incredibly prfound is her Aunt Big Nanima) is fully developed so that the audience learns the impact of globalization on American assimilation. This is a deep look at a Muslim making it in the United States.

Harriet Klausner

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