Three women at different stages of life struggle to reconcile their own desires with the expectations of clashing Arab and American cultures in this first novel by an American woman who married into an Arab family.
After 20 years of marriage to Ahmed, a Palestinian-born restaurateur, American-born Margaret is beginning to have doubts. Although still a practicing Muslim, she hasn’t worn the hijab in years, not since she caught sight of herself in a mirror and did not recognize the old woman staring back at her. Her frustrations have only grown since her recently widowed mother-in-law, Zainab, has moved in, with her stifling prejudices against non-Arab and non-Muslim ways. Zainab herself isn’t entirely happy with the situation. Certainly, her eldest son ought to give his own mother refuge, but living in America affronts everything Zainab values. Even worse, her younger son, Khalid, has brought home another American bride, Alison, a student of Near Eastern studies. Of Syrian descent, Alison is at first intrigued to join a real Arab family, yet she tries to maintain her independence, watching rather than participating in daily prayer practices, for example. But Khalid soon begins monitoring her dress and behavior, shifting Islamic culture from her course of study to a scarf constricting her every movement. Tensions increase when Alison discovers she is pregnant, and she wonders whether motherhood will tether her even more tightly. Meanwhile, Ahmed announces a job offer in the United Arab Emirates, which pushes Margaret to realize the limits of her acculturation. Rich with culture, Warah’s debut novel deftly intertwines these three women’s tales of longing and sacrifice. Yet at times the characters fall flat; Zainab in particular seems smothered by stereotypes, as she focuses unceasingly on her faith, family, and lost homeland. Consequently, the final epiphanies, while emotionally bursting, seem too easy.
A heartfelt journey to discover the joys of family and home.