“A blistering exploration of three generations of Palestinian-American women, unfolding in lyrical but demanding prose.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
At one point in this book, Isra, one of the women whose story it tells, is shocked by the fact that she anticipates and readily gives in to a beating by her husband, with no defiance or even self preservation whatsoever. The bleakness with which she accepts this realization, summarises her story.
Married to a Palestinian American at 17 and brought to America, away from everything she has ever known, all Isra wants in the beginning is to find love and belonging as the characters in the books she secretly reads do. But the reality of her life slowly snuffs the remnants of hope and dreams in her. Living a life where neither conformity nor defiance bring her a modicum of comfort, forced to bear children one after the other and chastised for not bearing sons, Isra withdraws into herself, her spirit beaten. She is wracked by guilt that her daughters will have to live the same way because she doesn’t have the courage to do something about it.
And years later, her daughter Deya, at the cusp of a future she does not want, a marriage she is being forced into as that’s what a woman’s life is all about according to her grandmother, is frantic to escape. When a familiar face from the past reaches out, she tries to make sense of the truth that is revealed to her.
Set in the world of a Palestinian Muslim family in America, trying to stick to their own values, the parents terrified that their children will forget their culture in this foreign land, this story nevertheless echoes the plight of a lot of women everywhere, who sadly, even today, have no control over their lives.
It isn’t always only about wanting to improve your life, it isn’t about self belief and the will to defy injustice, it is also about where you come from, what you have been taught about yourself and the thoughts embedded deep within from years of conditioning.
When girls are told they are burdens that must be disposed of as quickly as possible and forgotten, when marriage and parenting of,preferably, sons, is supposed to be the pinnacle of achievement for them, when domestic violence is something they are taught is normal, their lives become a continuous cycle of agony. And the cycle repeats with multiple generations repeating the same mistakes in an attempt to ensure happiness for their children, the only way they know how.
Hard hitting and difficult to read though it is, the book evocatively captures the mindset and thoughts of women trapped in this cycle and serves to illuminate their lives by saying it as it is, with no sugar coating or quick fix solutions.
I loved the reinforcement of the power of books in the pages of this story. Books are acknowledged as an escape from reality, as a passage to a better tomorrow and as education for more possibilities. As one of the voracious readers in the book says, she was collecting stories from which she could attempt to build a life of her own. That’s something all readers can relate to.
It needs to be read for the truthful picture it very poignantly paints.
Added 17th August 2019