So there is this hangup of mine. I don't like reading books that everyone is raving about at the time it comes out. So despite many people telling me I must read this book, I took my time and I am glad I did or else I might feel I was influenced by their opinions.
I had read her previous two books and I am a fan. In them she has a distinctive voice and a certain rawness that was appealing. And look at that cover! It is fabulous if not a little risqué.
This novel has more polish and is in a different style from her short stories. It is a very easy read and engaging from beginning to end. I might have done away with the Prologue but writers seem attached to them.
Because Ameena Hussein is a Muslim, it is understandable that she writes a novel that deals entirely with a Muslim family. A young very modern (living together with her boyfriend, living in a foreign country working, educated abroad - is it realistic, I ask?) Muslim woman comes back to the country when her father dies in a bomb blast. She has one sister and two brothers. She is the eldest in the family. When she comes back, she realizes that she is adopted and that because of some convoluted aspect of Muslim Law she can't inherit from her father who dies without making a will. She also realizes that she has a blood brother and off she goes to find that brother who has had the most different life from her. She is not upfront about being his sister and I suspect he is falling in love with her and is mad with her for hiding that fact. They part on strained terms but later on start meeting and talking and also seem to be stepping over the boundaries that rule brothers and sisters. Then tragedy takes place and soon after the book ends.
I don't want to spoil the story which is why I stop there. Hussein, puts in everything and the kitchen sink: there is allusion to the war, there are debates on Muslim tradition, there is a big section on the JVP, there is the Tsunami, there is post tsunami rehabilitation, there is sibling unease over her adoption, there is anger, love, betrayal, friendship, etc etc . So despite its fairly slim size, it is a novel that speaks about a hell of a lot of things.
But don't let that frighten you. Hussein has a lovely easy writing style. While she may struggle a bit at the beginning, the novel gets stronger and better as you read along. While she may pontificate too much on issues, there is certainly food for thought. And when I came to the end of the novel, I was quite moved.
She has wonderful descriptions about the country, about the customs and traditions of the Muslim community and really lyrical passages on how the protagonist feels about love. My favourite characters were RaushenGul and Abdullah. The former the young woman's mother, who is quite a feisty woman in her own right and the latter, the young woman's fiancée who comes out as being sensitive and truly loving her. One of the loveliest passages for me was right at the end of the novel, when he goes to visit her before flying back to the home that they both shared without her accompanying him.
Perhaps as is often with first novelists, there is this need to talk about everything. I look forward to her second novel but I confess I like her earlier style compared to this one and hope she continues to develop as a writer.