Book Review: Written in the Stars – Aisha Saeed

written-in-the-starsTitle: Written in the Stars
Author: Aisha Saeed
ISBN: 9780399171703
Pages: 304
Release Date:
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Genre: Teen/YA, Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

Naila is a 17-year-old Pakistani American girl, living a life that may not be normal to outside eyes, but it’s normal to her. Her strict Muslim parents believe they know what’s best for her, not allowing her to socialize or date, but Naila has a secret–a boyfriend named Saif, who’s perfect for her. But when Naila’s parents find out about Saif, her life changes drastically, and Naila realizes just how powerless she is.

Review:

Aisha Saeed’s Written in the Stars is a novel I’ve been waiting on for a long time. Aisha and I have been Twitter friends since the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, and hers is one of the novels I’ve most been looking forward to for 2015. So that means there were some high expectations going in. I didn’t know anything about this novel except that the main character was a Pakistani Muslim American teenager who was a girl. That’s it. And oh, boy, I’m glad I didn’t know too much about the plot because I was completely hooked every second of the way, waiting to see what would happen next.

Let’s start with the main character, Naila. She’s smart, sweet, and tries to respect her parents’ wishes. She loves them and knows they want what’s best for her. She’s just not sure that, growing up in U.S., so different from where they were raised, they actually know what’s best for her. Naila doesn’t see anything wrong with dating a boy she’s serious about, but she also doesn’t want to go against her parents’ wishes. This turns Naila into a big ball of guilt, uncomfortable in her own skin, and unsure of who she is.

Things take a turn after Naila’s parents discover her secret relationship in Written in the Stars, and as you can imagine, it’s not a positive turn for Naila. There is so much packed into this book, so many twists and turns and emotional occurrences, but I don’t want to discuss specifics because of plot details. So instead, let me just say this: Saeed writes such an honest, moving main character. Anyone who grew up with strict parents, not just South Asians, will identify with Naila. Saeed speaks universal truths through the specifics of one character’s experience, and it’s incredibly emotional. It’s hard not to become wrapped up in Naila’s journey.

Written in the Stars deals with serious issues, but it’s also the story of one young woman trying to figure out where she belongs in the world. It deals heavily with the powerlessness of women, specifically in the Muslim world, but the underlying truths are broadly applicable. If you enjoy cultural stories, stories about strong women, or just emotional reads that will suck you in completely (if you’re like me, you love all three), then this is a book you shouldn’t miss.

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Book Review: Together Tea – Marjan Kamali

together tea coverTitle: Together Tea
Author: Marjane Kamali
ISBN: 9780062236807
Pages: 336
Release Date: May 21, 2013
Publisher: Ecco Books
Genre: Cultural Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary:

Mina is fed up with her mother’s attempts to arrange her marriage, but Darya only wants what is best for her daughter—after all, it’s the traditional Iranian way. But Mina feels lost and confused, unsure of who she is or what she wants to become. She has left business school to pursue her dreams of becoming an artist, but she still feels unmoored. Mina makes a deal with Darya: She wants to return to Tehran for a visit, a place she left in the 1979 turmoil at the age of 10, a place her parents have forbid Mina from going. In return, she will follow the path they have laid out for her. Mina is surprised when Darya not only agrees, but chooses to accompany Mina on this life-changing trip.

Review:

Together Tea is a thoughtful novel about two Iranian women who are more alike than they seem. The novel begins in the year 1996, when Darya is trying to arrange Mina’s marriage, jumps back to pre-revolution Iran, when Mina was 10 and life was getting more and more difficult in the revolutionary country, and then comes back to 1996. This worked tolerably well, but the latter two parts are the strongest portions of the novel; the first part doesn’t really draw the reader in. Once you get past this, though, Kamali’s writing and descriptions bring the novel to life.

The two most important aspects of Together Tea are setting and characters, and Kamali writes both well. Iran’s food, culture, and locales burst forth off the page for the reader, and readers will become immersed in Mina and Darya’s internal struggles. It would be easy to vilify Darya as a nosy, meddling mother, but because Kamali gives this character her own voice as well, the reader comes to understand her. All in all, this is a well done read. It had its weak points in the beginning section, but Kamali brings it together by the middle of the novel and it makes for an entertaining and eye-opening read.

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Book Review: Don’t Let Him Know – Sandip Roy

don't let him know - sandip royTitle: Don’t Let Him Know
Author: Sandip Roy
ISBN: 9781620408988
Pages: 256
Release Date: January 20, 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

When Amit finds an old love letter written by a man in his parents’ home, he figures that his mother, Romola, must have had a boyfriend before she married his now-deceased father, Avinash. But what Romola doesn’t tell her son is that, in fact, the letter was actually written to Avinash. This novel, written in the form of connected short stories, takes the reader from India to the United States and back again, jumping through time to tell the story of this family.

Snapshot Review:

An amazing novel packed to the brim with realistic characters, Don’t Let Him Know tackles important issues and is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of members of one Indian family.

Full Review:

Don’t Let Him Know is a gorgeously written novel that travels through time around the globe to tell the story of the Mitra family. It begins with Amit, after his father’s death, finding an innocuous love letter, but Romola isn’t prepared for the memories it brings forth, for the remembrance of her own discovery of the damning letter. Romola was a new bride in the United States, a women who didn’t know her husband very well, and instead of the letters that she was so desperately awaiting from her own family, this letter shows up. Roy captures Romola’s devastation and her sense of betrayal so well; she is alone in this world, and the one person she thought she had, it turns out she doesn’t even know. It’s gorgeously done and wraps the reader in the novel emotionally.

From there, Don’t Let Him Know starts jumping through time to flesh out the stories of the Mitra family, of Avinash, Romola, and Amit. Each chapter brings something new, and the novel isn’t told chronologically. It might sound confusing, but Roy does a great job keeping the narrative thread of the novel in place and coherent. The characters take turns narrating their own stories, so the reader comes to know and understand each of them intimately. They aren’t perfect; they’re flawed and human, but they’re real.

The novel also deals with many different issues facing modern India today. It’s clear from just the summary that Don’t Let Him Know that homosexuality plays an important role, one that recurs throughout the book. But Roy also tackles issue that are less hot-button but still very important, problems that anyone can identify with. For example, what happens to your elderly mother, who lives far away, after your father dies? What happens when something occurs that makes you wonder about the path not taken, about a former boyfriend who is no longer yours to mourn? Roy does an excellent job with his subject matter, and whether large or small, the issues he chooses to write about will become important to the reader.

If you’re looking for an excellent South Asian novel that’s fascinating, superbly written, and entertaining, but never dark or heavy, then Don’t Let Him Know is a great choice. It never gets weighed down with its own importance or seriousness. It’s unassuming, but don’t let that fool you: this is a powerful novel you won’t want to put down.

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Book Review: A Bad Character – Deepti Kapoor

bad character coverTitle: A Bad Character
Author: Deepti Kapoor
ISBN: 9780385352741
Pages: 256
Release Date: January 20, 2015
Publisher: Knopf
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

A young woman is attending college in Delhi, living with her aunt after her mother’s death. She falls in love with an older man, someone entirely unsuitable, and experiences a passionate love affair, defying traditional expectations and setting herself upon a dark path.

Snapshot Review:

The first thing you notice about A Bad Character is the spare prose. It’s beautiful and lyrical, and is almost like verse. Kapoor uses as few words as possible to tell her story, and it evokes many emotions: longing, sadness, and despair, just to name a few. It makes the book easy to read, even when it feels heavy, edging into brutality. This is not a lighthearted read, by any stretch of the imagination; Kapoor knows pain and makes sure the reader feels it too.

The narrator of A Bad Character is nameless; she’s addressed once, but it isn’t clear if that is her name or a nickname. It serves to draw the reader more deeply in the narrative; the emotional distance you normally have of reading someone else’s story disappears entirely. It’s a novel of swirling emotions, full of love and loss, and the darkness and self-destruction that come with tragedy. The main character defies everyone’s expectations in this novel, including her own; Kapoor manages to discuss the treatment of young women in India while keeping the narrative solely and exclusively focused on the main character. All in all, this novel is incredibly well done and I look forward to seeing what Kapoor does next.

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Book Review: The Unquiet Dead – Ausma Zehanat Khan

Title: The Unquiet Dead Author: Ausma Zehanat Khan ISBN: 9781250055118 Pages: 352 Release Date: January 13, 2015 Publisher: Minotaur Books Genre: Cultural Fiction, Crime Fiction Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5  of 5 Summary: Rachel Getty has been working with Essa Khattak on solving minority-centered police cases, and she loves her job and her boss. But when a new […]

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Book Review: Faint Promise of Rain – Anjali Mitter Duva

faint promise of rain cover

Title: Faint Promise of Rain Author: Anjali Mutter Duva ISBN: 9781938314971 Pages: 332 Release Date: October 7, 2014 Publisher: She Writes Press Genre: Historical Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asia) Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: The year is 1554, and a daughter has just been born to a family of temple dancers, or devadasi, […]

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Book Review: The Bishop’s Wife – Mette Ivie Harrison

the bishop's wife cover

Title: The Bishop’s Wife Author: Mette Ivie Harrison ISBN: 9781616954765 Pages: 352 Release Date: December 30, 2014 Publisher: Soho Crime Genre: Mystery, Cultural Fiction Source: Publisher Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: Linda Wallheim is the wife of a bishop living in a tight-knit Mormon community. People see Linda and her husband as pillars of the […]

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Book Review: Secret Keeper – Mitali Perkins

Title: Secret Keeper Author: Mitali Perkins ISBN: 9780440239550 Pages: 240 Release Date: April 27, 2010 Publisher: Ember Genre: Cultural Fiction (South Asian), Historical Fiction, YA Source: Personal Copy Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: It’s the 1970s in India, and Asha’s father has just lost his job. Hopeful that America might bring him better prospects, Asha’s […]

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