Friday 14 January 2011
The Writing on my Forehead by Nafisa Haji
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.