Saturday, November 14, 2015

In the Language of Miracles

There's so much written about the concept of collective guilt that one could pen a dissertation on the subject. Why do some cultures feel the  burden more than others, though, is another question. Germans will probably never stop working to apologize for the Holocaust. Why else is Angela Merkel straining her borders to accommodate so many Syrian refugees?

Yet here in the United States, not only will we as a nation never apologize for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some seem to still feel proud of it. Reparations for our native and African American citizens? Never. Since the attacks on 9/11 our Muslim citizens have faced undue prejudice and suspicion, forced to explain that their Islamic faith is not synonymous with terrorism, a false idea that will likely be exacerbated by the terrible events in Paris yesterday.

What a difficult and unnerving subject for a writer to tackle in a debut novel. Yet, that's just what Rajia Hassib has eloquently done in her book, "In the Language of Miracles," recommended by my friend Pat Abosch. Yes, if your group is looking for a challenging book discussion, this novel will lend itself nicely.

Product Details
 When Samir and Nagla Al-Menshawy arrived in New York City from Cairo in 1985 with their newborn son Hosaam, they dared to dream confidently of their bright future. Samir was in medical school and once his residency was completed they would move to the suburbs, New Jersey perhaps, and he would find the perfect town, the ideal home, in which to raise their family. He did.
But that's the back story. The action takes place over a five day period, a year after 18-year-old Hosaam's death and the death of his next door neighbor and lifelong friend, Natalie Bradstreet. The catalyst is a tree planting, a memorial for Natalie, planned by her parents, an event that will resurrect strong emotions throughout the small town. The author delicately unspools bits and pieces of the facts surrounding the deaths of the two young people, and readers may arrive at one or two wrong conclusions before the full truth of the matter is revealed.
What we know is that a twenty year friendship between the Al-Menshawys and Natalie's parents, the Bradstreets, has been permanently severed by what happened one day a year ago. Since that day Samir and Nagla are no longer seen as simply neighbors and friends, but as Muslims, Egyptians, outsiders. Samir's practice is hemorrhaging patients, Nagla withdraws in anger and grief, ceding her role at home to her own mother, and daughter Fatima seeks solace at the mosque. 
Yet it is through the eyes and ears of Hosaam's younger brother, the beautifully drawn Khaled, that readers will fully grasp the depth of the family's collective guilt, the way that Hosaam's actions have shredded the fabric of a marriage and a family. Khaled is a boy you'll want to rock in your arms, on whom you'll want to lavish the solace that eludes him at home.
Not since Amy Waldman's powerful novel, "The Submission," have I read a book that so aptly describes the pain of guilt by association and the ways in which that anguish can upend the lives of perfectly good, decent people. This is a sophisticated novel from a young writer to watch.