A Pure Heart by Rajia Hassib
ISBN: 9780525560050 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780525560067 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781984889621 (audiobook)
ASIN: B07KDYDDY3 (Kindle edition)
Publication date: August 6, 2019
Publisher: Viking Books
A powerful novel about two Egyptian sisters–their divergent fates and the secrets of one family
Sisters Rose and Gameela Gubran could not have been more different. Rose, an Egyptologist, married an American journalist and immigrated to New York City, where she works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gameela, a devout Muslim since her teenage years, stayed in Cairo. During the aftermath of Egypt’s revolution, Gameela is killed in a suicide bombing. When Rose returns to Egypt after the bombing, she sifts through the artifacts Gameela left behind, desperate to understand how her sister came to die, and who she truly was. Soon, Rose realizes that Gameela has left many questions unanswered. Why had she quit her job just a few months before her death and not told her family? Who was she romantically involved with? And how did the religious Gameela manage to keep so many secrets?
Rich in depth and feeling, A Pure Heart is a brilliant portrait of two Muslim women in the twenty-first century, and the decisions they make in work and love that determine their destinies. As Rose is struggling to reconcile her identities as an Egyptian and as a new American, she investigates Gameela’s devotion to her religion and her country. The more Rose uncovers about her sister’s life, the more she must reconcile their two fates, their inextricable bond as sisters, and who should and should not be held responsible for Gameela’s death. Rajia Hassib’s A Pure Heart is a stirring and deeply textured novel that asks what it means to forgive, and considers how faith, family, and love can unite and divide us.
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Fayrouz “Rose” Gubran has had what many may perceive as an idyllic life. She and her sister, Gameela, were raised by loving parents, Nora and Ahmad. Both daughters have received advanced educational studies, Rose in Egyptology/Archeology and Gameela in Engineering. And then when Rose was in her mid-twenties, she met an American reporter, Mark Hatfield. Mark was different from the other men she had met, they fell in love, he converted to Islam so they could get married (Muslim women aren’t allowed to marry non-Muslim men in Egypt), and eventually she was accepted in a doctoral program in the US. She and Mark moved to the States where Rose studied, became a naturalized citizen, changed her name from Fayrouz Gubran to Rose Gubran Hatfield, and eventually became a postdoctoral fellow at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. Mark became a reporter with assigned articles at the New York Times but longed for the days when he was reporting on social issues from the Middle East. Gameela, several years younger than Rose, lives through Arab Spring, is no longer as idealistic as she once was, and is possibly in a relationship with a man almost 30 years her senior. After a brief return to Egypt to do a series of freelance articles, Mark returns to the States and weeks later the young man he interviewed (Saaber) is jailed for the simple act of being interviewed by a foreign journalist and attacking one of the arresting officers. Several months later, Gameela is killed in a suicide bomber attack and Mark is feeling guilty that he may have inadvertently had a part to play in her death, Rose is angry at Mark because he may have inadvertently had a part to play in her death (Gameela introduced Mark to the man that introduced him to the young interview subject), and their lives are turned upside down. The only thing Rose can think of doing is trying to uncover the secrets, if any, to her sister’s life in Egypt. Will the answers she finds to bring her peace or simply cause more pain?
I had the pleasure of reading In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib a few years ago and was blown away by the storyline and characters. I knew that I had to get my hands on a copy of her latest book, A Pure Heart after hearing about it and I’m incredibly grateful to the publisher for supplying me with a print review copy. A Pure Heart is an amazing story for so many reasons, not just because it is well written (although it is). This story asks and answers what makes a good Muslimah (Muslim female) as well as a good daughter/sister/wife/friend. Is it possible to be good at any of these roles and have secrets or change our opinions on what it means to be righteous or pious without being sanctimonious? Is it possible to love someone and still be angry with them for a prolonged period of time? Can we ever be assured that we know someone when we don’t know their deepest, darkest secrets? Do we even need to know those secrets in order to be a good friend/spouse/sibling? There are a lot of issues presented in A Pure Heart and there’s no way too many for me to touch on all of them without revealing too much about this wonderful story. This reader enjoyed getting to know all of the characters, especially Rose, Gameela, Mark, Ingrid, Nora, Ahmad, and Fouad, as well as Saaber. I loved reading about the neighborhoods in Egypt and learning about the poverty-stricken neighborhoods that tourists never see or hear about. I’m hard-pressed to find anything that I didn’t like about this story. As an American Muslimah, it is refreshing to read stories written by Muslims about Muslims and although Islam isn’t front and center in this story, it does play a pivotal role in the lives of the main characters. I encourage you all to grab a copy of A Pure Heart to read, and I’m not just saying that as a Muslim or because the author is a fellow West Virginia resident. I’m recommending this book because it is an outstanding read and one that I think every reader will be able to appreciate. Happy Reading y’all!