The Writing on My Forehead by Nafisa Haji
Harper Perennial, 2009
Fiction; 308 pgs
From the Publisher:
From childhood, willful, intelligent Saira Qader broke the boundaries between her family's traditions and her desire for independence. A free-spirited and rebellious Muslim-American of Indo-Pakistani descent, she rejected the constricting notions of family, duty, obligation, and fate, choosing instead to become a journalist, the world her home.I love family stories. My own family's included. When my maternal grandparents were alive, I loved listening to them talk about the past. After they were gone, I found quite a few treasures among the old photographs and letters my grandmother had held onto during her life time. I wanted to know everything about them, about my family. As an extension, I am quite fond of novels where a character delves into her own family history, whether it be uncovering a long held family secret or finding strength in the past by those who came before--often both.
Five years later, tragedy strikes, throwing Saira's life into turmoil. Now the woman who chased the world to uncover the details of other lives must confront the truths of her own. In need of understanding, she looks to the stories of those who came before—her grandparents, a beloved aunt, her mother and father. As Saira discovers the hope, pain, joy, and passion that defined their lives, she begins to face what she never wanted to admit—that choice is not always our own, and that faith is not just an intellectual preference.
The Writing on My Forehead by Nafisa Haji is one such novel. Framed around her own story, protagonist Saira reaches into her memories for answers to help her through a very difficult and tragic time in her life. Alongside the present day story is a coming of age story as Saira sets out on her chosen path. Bucking tradition, family and faith, she refuses to marry and pursues a career in journalism. And yet it is that very tradition, family and faith that will be there for her in the end.
I liked Saira. She is intelligent and curious about the world around her, unafraid to ask questions. Raised in the United States, she is faced with a culture that values individuality and another, her family's, that is more centered around family and tradition. I was reminded of Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake, which also touched on this topic. I really appreciated how the author handled the cultural aspects of the novel. Although Saira may have chosen an unconventional path, characters like her sister, Ameena who was more traditional, were not painted in a negative light. Both lifestyles were portrayed realistically--having negative as well as positive aspects.
One of the most interesting characters was Mohsin, Saira's cousin. He had discovered their grandfather's journal in a trunk in the attic and shared the grandfather's story with Saira. Roshan Qadar had been an activist, fighting for the betterment of the Indian people. Mohsin hoped to follow in his footsteps. Mohsin, her grandfather and the example of her favorite aunt are what shaped Saira's choices in life. My only disappointment is that more time wasn't spent on Mohsin's story, especially given the important role he played in Saira's life once she became a journalist.
That favorite aunt of Saira's was a favorite character of mine as well. Big Nanima, as Saira called her, is a professor in Pakistan. She had never married, not so much by choice but by circumstance. She had studied in England and was a great inspiration for Saira. Even while she encouraged Saira to make her own choices in life, she also asked her to remember her family and not be so quick to toss away the traditions the family held so dear.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Writing on My Forehead. There is so much that we can learn from the stories of our families. While Saira's own story at times seemed secondary to the stories of her family members, it is a rich novel; while at times tragic, it is also full of redemption and heart.
Rating: (Very Good)
You can learn more about Nafisa Haji and her book on the author's website. Be sure and check the TLC Book Tours website as well.
Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. Book for review provided by the publisher.
Nafisa Haji's TLC Tour Stops:
Monday, March 8th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Wednesday, March 10th: Bibliophile by the Sea
Thursday, March 11th: My Books. My Life.
Monday, March 15th: Lit and Life
Wednesday, March 17th: BookNAround
Tuesday, March 23rd: Book Dilettante
Wednesday, March 24th: A Sea of Books
Thursday, March 25th: Luxury Reading
Monday, March 29th: Lost in Books
Wednesday, March 31st: Book Club Classics!
© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.