In this novel, two generations of Egyptian women struggle to achieve independence and love on their own terms.
Jacobson (Dreamweaver Road, 2014) chronicles the trials and tribulations of Zahra, an Egyptian mother, and Aisha, her American-born daughter. The chapters jump chronologically and alternate between points of view. Zahra submits to an arranged marriage despite being in love with the man’s sister. Years later, after the family has moved to America and Zahra has left her husband, Aisha takes a trip to Egypt to discover her roots and reconnect with her family; she makes some discoveries she never could have predicted. Jacobson’s writing is often clear and evocative. Her descriptions of Cairo—with its “[c]anvas awnings that trapped the smells of shisha or ful medames overcooking in a street vendor’s pot [and] offered a brief release from the heat”—help bring the city and its complicated history to life. Zahra and Aisha are also both engaging as strong, complex women—Zahra, a woman able to live fulfilling sexual and romantic lives as a lesbian in the U.S., is especially welcome as a unique character not often seen in mainstream women’s fiction. There are some flaws in the pacing, as the confusing jumps in chronology don’t always take place in an order that makes sense. Some storylines, such as the group of lesbians who unthinkingly embrace Zahra or Aisha’s reunion with her long-lost brother, Nor, are resolved a little too simplistically within the context of the narrative. Yet ultimately, this novel sheds welcome light on the lives of Zahra and Aisha and women like them who flee distressing circumstances to try to make their lives better. Both women find their own happiness, though it surfaces in unexpected ways and surprising places.
Anchored by family, culture and love, this story about enduring relationships is a joy to read.