In Rana’s debut novel, a reclusive, conservative Islamic leader and family man falls for a vivacious fashion model half his age.
The worship leader of a Muslim community in Canada, Ali Mansoor Khan is a middle-aged imam with two children whose wife, Shazia, is pregnant with a third. He is also a veteran; the horrors he experienced and injuries he sustained while serving his country in Afghanistan have left him with horrific nightmares. His reprieve from this terror comes in his dreams, in the form of the beautiful Stacy Kimball, a model Ali saw in one of his daughter’s clothing magazines. Ali becomes obsessed with Stacy and the haunting similarities the blond 20-something shares with Shazia. Upon meeting her, his attraction only grows. But even if his religion allows it, how can he take a second wife? Especially with the protestations of his family and the public scrutiny that results when a man of his age and appearance is seen with a famous young model. Rana’s debut showcases a refreshing sense of humor; forgoing subtlety more often than not, Rana presents the characters as animated, exaggerated figures. While this does little to establish a sense of realism, each character in the novel is clearly defined and instantly memorable—from Ali as the tortured, self-chastising holy man to the seductive coquette, Stacy, to Shazia, Ali’s mercurial, rampaging wife. Yet these larger-than-life personalities never undercut the darker aspects of the story. Chapters move quickly in a nonlinear fashion, a device which, while initially disorienting, creates intrigue even during more banal scenes. Rana utilizes repetition in his narrative, but it never feels tedious. Instead, the novel presents the recurring hopes, fears and sentiments of its characters in a way that resembles Ali’s prayers. The means through which Ali meets his new love are flimsy—a picture, a dream, a private investigator—but as the novel advances, it forms an eloquent commentary on image, especially as it concerns religion and race in Western society.
Subverts expectations with a twisting plot crossing cultural and religious boundaries.