Title: The Writing on My Forehead
Author: Nafisa Haji
Release Date: March 1, 2009
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction’
Rating: 4 out of 5
From the publisher’s website:
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.
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.
I was lucky enough to receive The Writing on My Foreheadd from the HarperCollins First Look program and I was very excited to read it. I really enjoy multicultural fiction, and the fact that there was a quote from Khaled Hosseini (whose books I loved) on the front cover of the novel sent my hopes for The Writing on My Forehead soaring.
I really enjoyed the overall message of this novel. You can rebel against your culture, you can refuse to follow it, you can pretend it doesn’t exist; but don’t turn your back on it for good. Culture is important. It can be a source of comfort, but also a strong driving force in life. There are reasons for traditions, and while you don’t have to agree with them, you should respect them (for the most part).
Haji’s writing is definitely gorgeous. She writes very simply; her prose isn’t complex or convoluted. There is beauty in her words, in her style of writing. The words flow smoothly, without any jarring transitions or phrases out of place. Her writing brings a clarity to the reader and it adds to the understanding of Saira’s situation.
One thing that disappointed me about the novel is that I didn’t feel that the reader actually got to know the narrator, Saira. She seemed very closed off, only sparingly giving details of her life. The book seemed more about those who came before her, the lives of her grandparents. She utilizes these family secrets as sources of understanding and wisdom, trying to comprehend the complexities of her culture. However, the reader doesn’t seem to actually accompany Saira on her journey to understanding. We merely learn the stories with Saira, and then catch up with her years later, after most of the difficult decisions in her life had already been made. I would have loved for this to be a coming of age story, a young Muslim woman’s journey to adulthood in America, torn between her conservative culture and the free society around her. Instead, I can’t quite say what the book is. It’s definitely about culture, but it’s much harder to define.
Still, The Writing on My Forehead is an enjoyable novel that any fan of multicultural fiction would probably enjoy. I look forward to seeing what Nafisa Haji does next!