The Tower

The Tower is Shereen Malherbe’s newest contemporary novel. It takes place in the UK and is loosely based on the Grenfell Tower fire, in which 72 people died when the social housing complex was destroyed. This quiet and contemplative novel is told from the alternating points of view of two women who move into the building from very different lives.

Leah is English. Her husband died last year, and she has been living with her parents in their posh Kensington house while still in the fog of her grief. She can’t get along with them any longer, however, and she moves herself and her son, Elijah, to the tower, which is the only place they can afford.

Reem, who is pregnant, is a recently arrived Syrian refugee who has been placed in the tower. She suffered some kind of trauma during her journey and has lost most of her memory about how she arrived in the UK. She remembers being on a boat but only has a vague memory of the shoreline. Her next clear memory is of waking up in the hospital. She was traveling with her brother, but they were separated, and her priority is to find him. Over the course of the novel, the mystery of what happened to her and her brother is unraveled.

Leah and Reem become friends at first through Elijah, who is friendly with Reem, and then when Leah helps Reem register her brother as a missing person. As the two women get jobs and try to settle into their new lives, their friendship grows.

Even more than being a story about their friendship, this is the story of the building. From the opening scene, we understand that this isn’t a typical building. As Leah stands on the curb watching the taxi disappear, two men arrive to carry her sofa upstairs. She initially thinks they’re stealing it, and then, when she realizes the truth, apologizes profusely. But the residents of the tower have built a real community: helping each other with the furniture is the least of it. They also grow a garden, hold weekly meetings to discuss important issues, and host a community iftar every Ramadan. They are an odd assortment of people thrown into a building together, but they have good intentions and have built relationships around their commonalities, and that aspect of the story was really beautiful.

The Tower addresses themes of poverty, racism, immigration, Islamophobia, and xenophobia. The short chapters told from alternating points of view make it highly readable; I devoured it in a single day. I also loved Reem’s character. She practices both the spirit and the letter of Islam on the page, which is undeniably refreshing. Despite a few plot holes and bits of background that I wished were explained, this original and moving novel is well worth a read.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Find it here: Goodreads | Beacon Books | Amazon.com

Thank you to Beacon Books for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Other Americans

The Other Americans comes out in the US today from author Laila Lalami, whose novel, The Moor’s Account, was nominated for the Pulitzer. 

The Other Americans is at once a family saga, a mystery, and a romance. Nora, the daughter of Moroccan immigrants, is sitting in a restaurant with a friend when she finds out that her father was killed in a hit and run crash. As the police try to find whoever is responsible, Nora reconnects with old friends and enemies and unearths secrets.   View Post

Nameless Soldiers

Thank you to E.N. Clay for offering to send me a copy of their book—Nameless Soldiers, which is the first in the End of Times series—in exchange for an honest review.

Ali, a computer science student at a Swedish university, is part of a group of Muslim hackers preparing for the end times and the coming of the mahdi. When a member of their group is arrested and their website is hacked, they have to scramble to complete their mission, all while a Swedish intelligence agency is closing in on one side and a group of djinn on the other.  View Post

The Bird King

It’s convenient for girls to be angry about nothing. Girls who are angry about something are dangerous. If you want to live, you must learn to use your anger for your own benefit, not the benefit of those who would turn it against you.

The Bird King, a new fantasy novel from G. Willow Wilson (of Alif the Unseen and Ms. Marvel fame), combines history and the fantastical to produce an exciting and lyrical story set in Andalus in 1491. Our hero is Fatima, the sultan’s concubine, who was born and raised in the palace at Granada, the last remaining emirate. She has never left its walls. Hassan, the mapmaker, is her best friend and has a special ability. He can draw maps of places he’s never been to, and, even more intriguing, he can draw a map that changes the shape of the physical reality around him. When representatives from the Spanish Inquisition come knocking at the door, Fatima has to make a decision about the meaning of love and freedom. View Post

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.  View Post