A family is brought together to celebrate a wedding. Rafiq and Layla are celebrating the wedding of their firstborn, their daughter Hadia, who is marrying for love unlike their own arranged marriage. Rafiq and Layla met only a few times before their marriage, when Layla left her home and moved to the United States to be with her new husband. Together they have built a family and community. Hadia, is a leader, a people pleaser, in many ways the glue that holds their family together. It is their youngest child, their only son, Amar, who seems to threaten to pull the family apart. At Hadia’s request, Amar is returning home for her wedding, the first time in three years that the family will have all been together.
The story moves between the third person perspectives of Hadia, Layla, and Amar (and then a section at the end from Rafiq’s perspective). We see scenes from Layla’s early years as a young wife in a new country, married to a man she hardly knows. We see Hadia and Amar’s childhood, their close relationship and the struggles they face as children of immigrants in America, particularly as Muslims. (There is a middle child, a daughter Huda, who we never get a close view of.)
The sibling relationships here are very well done as is the exploration of the family dynamic. The differences between generations – some due to personality, some due to culture shifts – feel real. The characters are each flawed but drawn so realistically that it was always easy to sympathize with each one and understand what was driving their actions.
Personally, I really appreciated the portrayal of a deeply religious family that is experiencing a shift between generations. As Hadia and Amar (and Huda too, probably) grow up and become adults their understanding of what it is to be Muslim – and Muslim in America – shifts and develops and looks different from what their parents’ expectations might be. We see Hadia come of age to cover her hair and wear a scarf. And then we see her remove it after 9/11 and her father’s fear for her in its aftermath. We see Amar struggle with substance abuse and wonder where his place might be in his family and in a religion that forbids all intake of alcohol. We see Rafiq’s understanding of his own religion grow as he struggles to adapt to what he sees as his children’s rebellion.
A note on the audio version: This was my first audio book! I mean, not really, I used to listen to stories on tape as a kid, but it was my first time searching for a book off my TBR List and listening to it in audio format. I mostly listened while walking or doing housework which worked out pretty well for me. I found the plot easy to follow and didn’t have trouble distinguishing between characters. The first part of the novel is narrated by Deepti Gupta and I found her voice just right. I appreciated being able to hear the accurate pronounciation of names and Urdu words used throughout the book. She uses slightly different accents to distinguish between characters and, again, I felt like this made sense to show that someone like Layla would still have an accent, while Hadia who was born in the US would not. The last part of the book is narrated by Sunil Malhotra. I did not know there was going to be a switch and so was very surprised when suddenly a man’s voice showed up in my ear. The change in narrator makes sense for the content of the book but I didn’t like it as much. Maybe I had simply grown attached to the first narrator but I also found the way Malhotra voiced women and children to be awkward. It felt like he was putting on a voice, if that makes sense.