Book: The Writing on My Forehead
Author: Nafisa Haji
My Rating - 3.5/5
Short Review - Interesting story line. Could have been written better.
After reading rave reviews for this book around the blogosphere, I had high hopes for this book when I picked it up and I wasn’t disappointed. I expected a lot more but I was satisfied with what I got.
Nafisa Haji takes us down a well travelled path – cultural differences between immigrant parents and their American born children. The plot of the book, The Writing on My Forehead, is nothing new. It revolves around Saira Qadar – a Muslim American of Indo-Pakistani descent. She’s the younger daughter in a strict muslim family where adherence to culture and tradition is given the highest priority. As expected, Saira’s the rebel – the complete opposite of her well behaved obedient older sister who does everything according to her parents. She breaks the rules of the house and puts her ambitions and dreams higher up on the priority list than tradition and culture. We’ve seen the cultural confusion that second generation kids go through. Bend it like Beckham, The Namesake and many other books and movies have explored this scenario and pretty much presented all that there is to it already. I found it clichéd that Saira was a rebel, had an obedient older sister, had a cousin who was gay and had parents that refused to see beyond the cultural curtain they had firmly drawn.
However, in spite of having such a predictable plot, Nafisa Haji manages to keep the book interesting and entertaining. The characters, for the most part, were well defined. Here again, I sometimes felt that the female characters were strong and well drawn whereas the male characters (Saira’s dad, her uncle, her brother in law, etc) somehow fell a little flat. While there were enough characters to demonstrate the close knit nature of the inner and outer circles of indo-pak families, there weren’t too many to confuse the readers. I’ve read some reviews of this book where the reviewer felt that there were too many characters in the book. I somehow feel that without introducing so many characters, it would have been tough for Haji to demonstrate the social circles of Indo-Pak families.
And as the book progresses, the concentration somehow shifts from the issues of a confused child of immigrants to deeper matters such as understanding and respecting the choice your parents make in their lives. Saira’s grandparents, now dead, and her Big Nanima (grandma’s older sister) play a major role in the book. The book slowly moves away from being dealing with Saira’s cultural struggles and reveals the issues that her mom and dad had with their fathers. I loved the fact that Nafisa Haji moves the book in this direction. And I also liked the fact that Saira is portrayed as a complex personality. She is a rebel but she also recognizes the importance of family ties.
The book picks up pace and almost becomes too rushed towards the end. I felt that some of the characters just fizzled out towards the end and some of them just disappeared.
But I guess we would have to keep in mind that this was Nafisa Haji’s debut novel. I would definitely be interested in reading more books by her. I felt that this story was gripping and there was an element of suspense that’s maintained throughout the novel. There were a few negatives but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the book. I would definitely recommend it especially to those interested in cross cultural fiction.