I was browsing through Iphigene’s bookshelf for a non-Western author and found The Good Muslim, a book I soon learned was provided by Pansing.
The book delved into the life and family of female Muslim doctor, Maya, after the Bangladeshi war. I hate war and was unsure whether I would enjoy this book. On the onset, the banishment of Maya from her community despite her willingness to provide free medical service worried me. I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy the book. I persisted. After all, I was curious about the Muslim culture, their laws and family interactions.
However, as I read on, I discovered that the book revolved around the aftermath of war. The anticipation of who will return from the battlefield and how long will family members wait before they finally give up hope. The novel detailed the concerns of women waiting for news from the battlefield, constantly wondering if their husbands and sons will come home whole. For Maya, the return of her brother however brought no stories. Sohail was quiet. While she hungered for news and firsthand reports from her brother’s experience in the field, she got none. All she had were what the papers, television and radio told her. The return of her brother and their reunion did not bring back their old life – Sohail was changed. From the young activist she knew, her brother had become a traditionalist and a negligent father. No matter how she tried to convince Sohail to return to his former self, the scars of war have changed him completely. And so the novel explores how war changes not only a country as a whole but also the individual families within.
I normally stay away from adult fiction books, to keep myself upbeat and happy amidst the difficulties of life that I encounter. The Good Muslim dealt with certain aspects of real life that I’m not comfortable with. It dealt with life’s harshness and the pain that comes along with it. I kept on pondering who the Good Muslim was in the book as I was reading for I did not know the Muslim culture. At first, I thought it was Sohail because of how he had turned his life around and returned to his God. Then again, I was bothered by the fact that he has not helped his child cope with life in this world. The child longed for his father’s love, unaware that he had the right to be loved by Sohail. Furthermore, I felt sad that the child was deprived of learning despite his desire to learn. I couldn’t understand this at all. I believe that children be presented with opportunities that would make his or her life better. I believe that a child must be taught how to cope with the society, so as not to be swallowed in by its norms. Though I admired Maya for putting herself on the line to save the child, at a certain point she annoyed me for being such a nag and for constantly putting the child in a difficult situation.
Each character in the book carried certain painful experiences in their hearts, experiences that left scars in their beings and changed them completely, either for the better or for the worse. This is a reality for each one of us. Despite this, we carry on and learn how to accept that there are certain things in life that we can never change – except the way we perceive things and situations that happen to us. And all we can do is forget. However, there are some who may insist that sharing our difficulties may help and prove to be cathartic in our desire to find answers and meaning. In a way, Maya has portrayed this to us, hence my annoyance at her insistence that Sohail talk about the war. People cope differently. One event can mean different things for different people and it seemed that Maya couldn’t comprehend this as she insisted that Sohail speak about the war. I was in pain reading how the women were treated during the war. I admire their endurance despite difficulties.
I do love this book. It has touched my heart and has made me think of my own life. It has made me grateful for who I am and my life experiences. It has also triggered the yearning to be able to reach out, as Maya had done for those women who suffered during the war. Though I must honestly say, after reading The Good Muslim, I had to read a number of children’s books to get me smiling again.
Tahmima Anam according to her site (see here) was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She was raised in Paris, New York and Bangkok. She studied at Mount Holyoke College and Harvard University and earned a PhD in Social Anthropology.
Her first novel, A Golden Age, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Costa First Novel Prize, and was the winner of the 2008 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book. It was translated into 22 languages. Her writing has been published in Granta, The New York Times, and the Guardian. She currently lives in London.
Reading Challenge: Update 6 of 7