Hassib’s sensitive, finely wrought debut probes the fault lines revealed in an Egyptian-American family after their eldest son kills his ex-girlfriend and himself.
Because the Al-Menshawys are Muslim immigrants to a small New Jersey town, they not only endure jaundiced scrutiny about where they went wrong with Hosaam, but ugly Internet shaming and whispers conflating a troubled teen’s actions with international terrorism. Hassib’s treatment of thoughtless prejudice is quietly scathing, but her real interest is how family members react to it. Mother Nagla is paralyzed by grief and guilt; almost a year after the murder-suicide, she is still relying on her mother, Ehsan, to run the house while she broods in her dead son’s attic room. She's appalled when her husband, Samir, a local doctor, decides that a memorial service for the girl Hosaam killed, daughter of their next-door neighbors, provides the perfect opportunity to rejoin the community. The novel takes place over the five days leading up to the service, but the characters’ memories range from the family’s arrival in 1985 through the fissures created by Hosaam’s act. Daughter Fatima is becoming more pious, which strikes her brother Khaled as providing one more reason for people to ostracize them. He feels his brother’s crime is still controlling the whole family’s behavior and thrashes around for ways to break free. Without minimizing the older generation’s faults—Samir is overbearing, Nagla passive-aggressive, Ehsan interfering and manipulative—Hassib makes palpable the bonds of love and loyalty that bind them and the children together in a situation that would test any family to its limits. The climax at the memorial service is as wrenching, awkward, and inconclusive as it would be in real life; an epilogue affirms that people survive even the most horrific traumas.
Steeped in Arabic culture and the Muslim faith, as well as sharply observant of immigrants’ intricate relationships to their adopted homelands, this exciting novel announces the arrival of a psychologically and socially astute new writer.