Book Review: Painted Hands – Jennifer Zobair

Painted Hands coverTitle: Painted Hands
Author: Jennifer Zobair
ISBN: 9781250027009
Pages: 336
Release Date: June 11, 2013
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Genre: Cultural Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Zainab Mir has an atypical job for a Pakistani-American Muslim woman: a top advisor for a Republican Senate candidate. But Zainab has trouble shrugging off the personal attacks that come her way, from both the conservative media, who believe she has no place in politics, and conservative Muslims, who believe she sets a bad example for their community as a modern, progressive women. Meanwhile, Zainab’s best friend Amra is a hard-charging associate at a law firm gunning to make partner. But Amra also wants a husband and kids, and she isn’t sure whether the conservative expectations for a Muslim woman will ruin everything she’s worked so hard towards.


Painted Hands is a thoughtful examination of what it means to be a modern-day Muslim woman living in the United States. Zobair does an excellent job looking at the difficulties that these women face, and she manages to tell the story in such a way that Zainab and Amra’s experience are broadly applicable. While readers will enjoy learning about Zainab and Amra’s cultures and backgrounds, their experiences and struggles are universal and aren’t bound by culture or religion alone. As a result, readers will immediately identify with both of these women and emotionally connect to them as the novel progresses.

Zobair also provides social commentary in Painted Hands, mainly through Zainab’s experiences. Zainab undergoes fire from both sides, Muslim and conservative American, and is attacked both personally and professionally. It’s painful to witness, especially because it’s so believable in today’s media climate. However, it’s admirable to see how Zainab stands up for what she believes in, and her romantic storyline is definitely an entertaining one.

Amra is another determined professional in Painted Hands, but her difficulties are more of her own making. Rather than choosing to trust those around her, Amra believes that by ignoring her issues, they will disappear. She truly wants to have everything: to be a traditional Muslim wife while also having the career she’s always dreamed of. It’s very difficult for her to have both, though, and Amra’s forced to make some difficult choices, made even more so by her own insecurities.

Zobair does an excellent job in Painted Hands discussing many different aspects of being a Muslim-American woman. From family to career to men, no subject is off limits, and while that may make this novel seem gossipy, in truth it’s heartfelt and easy to dive into. The cultural aspects and discussion are fascinating and readers will enjoy this glimpse into a world that isn’t often portrayed in novels.

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  1. Great review! Thanks for bringing this one to my attention. After teaching a lot of Muslim students in my ESL classes, I’ve grown more and more interested in learning more about their experiences, particularly here in the States. Thanks.

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