Friday 14 January 2011

The Writing on my Forehead by Nafisa Haji

The pace of my reading has slowed considerably since going back to work.  Keeping me company during my tired evenings this week has been The Writing on My Forehead, a book I picked up from the library last weekend.  It's about what the writer calls "cultural schizophrenia", the clash of cultures that children of immigrant parents can feel.

Saira comes from an Indo-Pakistani family but was born and bred in America. In contrast to her sister Ameena she has always rebelled against what she sees as the strict, conservative views of her parents.  On a trip to a wedding in Pakistan and later on a visit to London she uncovers some family secrets that have a big impact on her when she later goes through a family crisis of her own.

Score: 3.5 out of 5

I really enjoy books that are about different generations of the same family, as this one was.  The first three quarters of the novel were a slow, wonderfully written description of the lives of the last few generations of Saira's family.  The characters were well rounded and some jumped off the page to the extent that I found myself thinking about them hours after putting the book down.  Big Nanima had to fight for her education in pre-partition India.  Mohsin, Saira's cousin, had to face coming out to modern but still conservative London parents.

Haji managed to hold all of these separate but interlocking stories together well.  She has a particular talent for dialogue; a lot of the scenes packed an emotional punch from the inferences that could be made based on the conversation between two characters.  I enjoy authors that leave that little bit unsaid for the reader to figure out on their own.

Unfortunately the last quarter of the book was a bit of a let down.  It honestly felt like Haji just wanted to get the book finished already - it went from a slow, leisurely examination of family to a series of dramatic crises in two page chapters.  Saira's crisis seemed a bit far-fetched (without spoiling it for anyone) and unneccessary, like Haji felt her book needed something dramatic and soap opera-ish when it didn't and she should have let her writing and characters speak for themselves.

Slightly disappointing, but still an enjoyable read.


  1. Perhaps a lot of authors want to "get the book finished already." I have noticed, when reviewing books, some are much better edited in the beginning as well. Even still ... this review does make "Writing On My Forehead" seem tempting. What a cute title.

  2. Sam I've been wanting to read this book. Hope i can get my hands on it soon. I see that you're reading Cleopatra's daughter. That's my favourite book of 2010. Enjoy reading =)

  3. Too bad this ended on a flat note. I was excited reading your review, as I love this type of fiction, but was then disappointed to see that it did not carry through to the end.
    Thanks for the great review :)
    I have just found your blog, and think it is lovely.

  4. Tami, I think that does happen with a lot of authors, especially on their first book. I would still recommend "The Writing on my Forehead", it was an enjoyable read.

  5. What a coincidence. I was leafing through this book in the library just the other day. So here's my dilemma: I'm really fascinated by East-meets-West stories. On the other hand I'm not quite as fascinated by soap opera-style story lines. Thanks for the review. Maybe I'll just read the first three quarters... haha.

  6. Nice review Sam... As far as its an enjoyable read guess I will check it out... :)

  7. R - I think it is still worth a read, and I'll be reading the next book Haji writes whenever it comes out.

    Birdy - hope you enjoy it :)