Thursday, August 20, 2015

Book Review: In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib

Published by: Viking
Published on: August 11, 2015
Page Count: 272
Genre: Fiction
My Reading Format: ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Available Formats: Hardcover, Kindle

My Review:

The Al-Menshawys, who immigrated to the United States from Egypt 15 years before, are living the American dream. Father Samir, mother Nagla, grandmother Ehsan, and teenage children Khaled, Hossam and Fatima are living comfortably in a suburban small town outside of New York City. For over a decade they've been best friends with the Bradstreets next door. Hossam's relationship with the Bradstreets' daughter Natalie has become more than a friendship until suddenly and violently, the worlds of both families are changed forever. What the Al-Menshawys chalked up to teenage moodiness was more serious than they anticipated. When Natalie ends their relationship, Hossam takes her life and his own in a nearby park. 

When the book begins, these two families have spent the year since the deaths of their children quietly removed from each other. The Al-Menshawys have carefully navigated their community. Samir's medical practice has suffered, Ehsan is keeping house while Nagla is still coming to terms with what has happened and Khaled is still getting harassed at school.

To commemorate the anniversary of their daughter's death, Jim and Cynthia are planning a tree planting and a memorial service at the park, and the public has been invited to attend. As a courtesy, Cynthia stops by the Al-Menshawys to make sure they're aware of the service. It's the first time the two families have spoken in a year.

Though the Al-Menshawys have grieved and struggled to make sense of Hossam's actions, the anniversary of the deaths brings to the surface the emotions that each family member individually has tried to keep quiet.

I liked so many things about In the Language of Miracles. The back-and-forth of the storyline works well as a structure, as it keeps the information dripping out for the reader a little at a time. I liked learning about the Egyptian culture of the Al-Menshawys and how it both changed and stayed the same as they settled into their American life. I liked this family of sad, believable characters. Hassib wrote convincingly about three different generations that although they still lived together under one roof, they were growing further apart. 

This book is a good reminder to appreciate and forgive cultural differences, realize that the grief process goes on long after a funeral service has ended and that everyone handles a loved one's death in their own time and on their own terms. This book is a good reminder to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, as you never know what they may be facing underneath the surface.

Four out of Five Stars

If you liked this book, you’ll like Zeitoun by Dave Eggers and And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard.

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