Elsewhere, Home

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.

Find it here: Goodreads | Grove Atlantic | Amazon.com | Book Depository

Unmarriageable

If we women decide to marry according to standards, then we are gold diggers, but when you weigh us in terms of looks and chasteness, then you’re just being smart. I can’t stand these double standards.

I have frequently thought about the similarities between Jane Austen’s regency era and Muslim life, so I’m always glad to see an Austen reboot with a Muslim spin. Unfortunately, I found the Muslim representation in Soniah Kamal’s Unmarriageable offensive and the writing mediocre. View Post

Escape from Syria

Escape from Syria, written by Samya Kullab and illustrated and colored by Jackie Roche and Mike Freiheit, is a graphic novel following the journey of a girl and her family from their home in Syria to a refugee camp in Lebanon to resettlement in Canada. View Post

The Things I Would Tell You

The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write is an anthology of literature written by twenty-two British Muslim women and edited by Sabrina Mahfouz. Rather than being a book about faith, this book is sometimes about the lived experiences of women who exist in the intersection of their Britishness and another identity and is sometimes simply an exhibition of these women’s literary talent. Some of the pieces are set in the UK; others are set in Palestine, Pakistan, and Yemen. View Post

The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters

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⭐⭐⭐

The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters is an adult contemporary novel by Nadiya Hussain, who won the Great British Bake Off. It’s a story about a Bangladeshi family living in the English countryside told from the alternating points of view of the four daughters.

This book was just okay for me.

  • The characters were almost caricaturish in the way they fit into neat little boxes, each fulfilling a role: the rebellious sister, the nurturing sister, the trendy sister, and the insecure sister.
  • There was way too much going on in the plot.
  • And it tied up too neatly at the end with a really unrealistic resolution to one of the biggest conflicts.

There is another installment about the Amir sisters coming out in the US in January. I might pick it up just to see what happens to these characters next. I might not.