The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris by Leïla Marouane (tr. Alison Anderson)

a nutshell: sharing the possibly delusionary (?) perspective of an Algerian-born, Paris-based man who decides to leave his mother’s home in search of independence, this novel continually took me by surprise

a line: “A place where, he said to me, you have come to listen to me at last”

an image: I was particularly moved by a moment when the narrator recalls his mother describing how she gave up her education & independence to marry, according to her father’s wishes, and from then on devoted herself to raising & educating her children

a thought: I may be in the minority (at least, according to Goodreads…) but I found this book fascinating & totally entertaining – I loved the ambiguity that allowed me to come to my own conclusions about the narrator’s reliability/motives

a fact: born in 1960 in Djerba, Tunisia, to a family living in exile, Marouane then lived in Biskra until she was six and in Algiers until her exile to Paris in 1991

want to read The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris? visit here

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

a nutshell: from Somalia to the US via Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Netherlands, this polarising public figure’s memoir follows her journey through an unimaginably turbulent childhood into an adulthood that pivots on her vocal disavowal of her former religion, Islam

a line: “Drinking wine and wearing trousers were nothing compared to reading the history of ideas.”

an image: while describing the period of her childhood spent in Mecca, the writer conjures up a strikingly vivid contrast between what she sees as the cool, beautiful, kindly space within the Grand Mosque and the intensely hot, filthy, cruel space outside the mosque’s doors

a thought: I was intrigued by Ali’s fairly understated comment on p.94 that novels were what saved her from submission – reading fiction gave her glimpses of another world, which ultimately sparked the sense of rebellion that changed her life, but once she had landed in the other world she refers only to non-fiction

a fact: Ali and I occupy very opposite ends of the political spectrum – and while I do try to read widely, which necessarily includes views I disagree with, my interest in the book waned as it went on; I felt like it became less a reflection on Ali’s life story and more an engine for promoting her hostility towards Islam

want to read Infidel? visit here

Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa

a nutshell: a Parsee girl, Lenny, candidly narrates her 1940s Lahore childhood as it mutates from a life of carefree mischief & chatter among miscellaneous friends to Partition-provoked horrors & heartache

a line: “Don’t hog God!”

an image: a colonel retells the story of the Parsis’ migration to India from Persia during the Arab invasion in 600s AD, evoking how the Indian Prince noted their arrival with a full glass of milk as a polite signal of his aversion to outsiders & their potentially disturbing alien ways; the Parsee forefathers returned the milk with a teaspoon of sugar stirred in – an indication that they’d be absorbed harmoniously into the country and sweeten the lives of his subjects

a thought: privy to adults’ tense discussions of the inevitable split, Lenny begins to notice that everyone she knows suddenly goes from being just themselves to being ‘Hindu’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Sikh’, or ‘Christian’; tribalism is forced onto them – as the country breaks, so too does her own community fracture

a fact: India and Pakistan have been embroiled in numerous conflicts since 1947, and just today Pakistan has announced it shot down two Indian military jets; sadly the clashes depicted in this now 28-year-old novel show no signs of abating

 

want to read Cracking India (aka Ice Candy Man)? visit here