Was this intense, enlightening novel really written not by a British Muslim girl but a male Indian novelist who lives in...



Two British Muslim girls run away to Syria to join the Islamic State group but find something far beyond disillusionment.

This superb novel is a cousin to Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) in both theme and structure. Here again a murky, reviled aspect of Muslim experience is brilliantly revealed; here again the form of the story is a single confidence shared with a silent listener. Jamilla and her friend Ameena are childhood friends from a town in the north of England. At home they speak Urdu; elsewhere, English with the local accent—“A think A told yer to bugger off.” Jamilla’s family is conservative; she is a passionate student and believer. She never goes out without her niqab, for which she is endlessly harassed, but she also feels at odds with the Islam of her parents, who “reduce God to a little bookkeeping clerk.” Ameena’s mum and dad are divorced, materialistic, and Westernized; Ameena herself smokes cigarettes and is mad for a soccer player at school who looks like David Beckham. The girls’ on-again, off-again friendship takes a fateful turn when Ameena is humiliated by her crush, then meets on Facebook a strikingly beautiful woman with an adorable cat. Hejjiye is a recruiter for Daesh, the Arabic acronym for ISIS. “Just pack your bags and leave,” she tells them. The plan is for them to become brides of jihadis, but while the more boy-crazy Ameena, who travels with a pack of made-in-China artificial hymens, is quickly married off, Jamilla schemes to remain at the so-called orphanage run by Hejjiye. Both girls quickly get to know their new associates. “The careerists win everywhere, believe me!” exclaims Jamilla. “Hassan’s fanaticism was a career to him. Killing was his corporate job. Apocalypse was how he planned to corner the market.” By the way, this is Ameena’s husband she is talking about. And there is no cat.

Was this intense, enlightening novel really written not by a British Muslim girl but a male Indian novelist who lives in Denmark? It seems impossible. Required reading for anyone interested in trying to understand our mad, bloody world.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-56656-067-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Interlink

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.


When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.


In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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