Rating: 4 stars
Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from Bloomsbury USA via NetGalley. I pride myself on writing fair and honest reviews.
Note: This review was challenging to write for a lot of reasons, primarily because I had a lot of thoughts about it that maybe weren’t really review material. But, I just couldn’t leave them out, so the format of this review differs from my usual.
Review: For once, a synopsis actually does a fair job of describing a book! Check out the synopsis on Goodreads. If that summary doesn’t intrigue you, this book probably isn’t for you.
Now here is one of the many reasons this book is for me. It is my opinion (grain of salt and put on your big girl panties y’all), and it has also been my experience (limited though it may be), that many people have strong opinions about cultures and countries of which they have no direct experience or proper education, and for us Westerners, this is particularly true of the Eastern World.
Those who dabble in travel go to super comfortable English-speaking countries like Australia, England, Ireland and Scotland. Those who are a little more adventurous might visit parts of Europe (France, Germany, Italy, etc.). I love to travel, and I’ve gone no further south than Honduras. In my 20’s, Egypt was very high on my list, but then it became less stable, and as a young woman who traveled alone (gasp!), I put it off, telling myself I’d go when it was “safer” (which I have always regretted).
Although it seems like there has always been “trouble” in the Middle East, I’ve felt the focus on those countries, and a really negative focus at that, has increased tremendously in recent years (it is also quite possible I’ve just become more aware). Regardless, it bothers me. It eats at me, if I’m being honest. This demonization. And I feel strongly that a lot of those feelings come from a lack of understanding.
While I don’t share those feelings, I also don’t know much about the Middle East or the multitude of cultures and religions from that region. And I want to change that. For me, the easiest gateway is through fiction created by people of that culture, religion, region, etc., so long as the fiction is centered in that world. It brings me tidbits of truth and knowledge, a reflection on the author’s personal experience, and makes me want to read more non-fiction on the subject. So, I’m trying to read more stories by authors outside of Europe and North America, stories that are also focused on those regions and the people living in them. One of the greatest powers books have is bridge building and I want to walk across as many of those bridges as I can. Now, back to the review…
Being Peri cannot be easy. A mother who is a devout Muslim and a father who is at best agnostic, and rather antagonistic towards those who place absolute faith in, well, anything that can’t be seen. Turkey is changing, but it is happening slowly. Peri is stuck in the middle, unsure of everything, unwilling to accept there is nothing but what she sees with her own eyes, but also not feeling the calling or strength of conviction that her mother does. Fortunately for her, her father wants her to have an education, to make her own choices about her life, and so she gets the opportunity to attend Oxford. It is there that she meets Professor Azur (a believer who questions all!), Shirin (an Iranian girl raised in London who is fiercely independent and seems to resent all things Muslim, both religion and culture), and Mona (Egyptian-American who wears a headscarf and is a devout believer like Peri’s mother). Oxford, and these people, will change her life in ways she never would have imagined.
While the voice of this book is Peri’s, through the eyes of these three girls, we see different perspectives and experiences of being a woman in, or from, the Middle East, as well as being, or growing up in, a Muslim household. And while I loved Peri (I very much identified with her feelings about faith and culture and finding her place), what I appreciated most was the reminder that there is much diversity of thought and experience within the Middle Eastern world, and those who are of Middle Eastern descent but have relocated to other countries. How blending in without sacrificing your culture can be painful and confusing and create division within families. And that things are changing all over the world, no matter what we think or what the media tells us.
There were times when I found Peri rather frustrating, but then I’d remind myself of her age and her circumstances, and I’d realize that I was so frustrated partially because she reminds me in many ways of myself. Clearly our backgrounds are very different, but still I found we had so much in common. Which is the beauty of fiction and why it is so important to read books by and about people different from ourselves.
A book I’ll read again at some point, knowing full well I’ll get even more out of it with every read.
Note: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley. I pride myself on writing fair and honest reviews.