I absolutely loved this collection of short stories about people who straddle cultures or homes in different countries and how difficult that is. Some of the stories deal with major life events, but others are about quiet, everyday moments and how being half this and half that and living half here and half there affects even those moments. The majority of the characters are Egyptian or Sudanese women living in England or Scotland.
This is a must-read book for expats, third-culture kids, or anyone who dreads being asked “Where are you from?” But it also speaks to the way that all of us struggle with belonging, especially when we’re between belonging to our family completely and forging out on our own.
“Summer Maze” is my favorite story, and it is the closest words on a page have ever come to mirroring my life. It follows an English daughter and her Egyptian mother as they travel to Cairo to spend the summer. It was the little things in this story that got to me: the crazy amounts of luggage Egyptians travel with, the weird, almost surreal relationships you forge with relatives you see only once a year, and being able to order whatever you want at Pizza Hut because the meat is all halal. The story is told first from the daughter’s point of view and then from the mother’s. It’s about expectations, but it’s also about each woman being torn in half by their mixed identities and double homes. There is a poignant moment where the daughter is delighted to see an English couple and hear their accent while sightseeing because she is feeling rather homesick. But when she finally catches their eyes, they see an Egyptian girl. They are surprised by her English and compliment her on it. She belongs to many identities, but none of those identities accept her into their fold fully. Her mother, meanwhile, is as homeless as her daughter: by leaving Egypt, she has fallen behind the times and the culture, and her sister tells her, that’s not how we do it anymore. By leaving home, she lost touch with it, but she doesn’t quite belong to the new place either.
My other favorites were “The Boy from the Kebab Shop” (about a non-practicing Muslim student who meets a boy at a fundraiser and starts to rethink her life) and “Pages of Fruit” (a woman’s second-person narration to a writer she spends years admiring).
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.