It’s rare to read a book that truly touches me, especially when the subject matter is far removed from the reality that is my life, but The Sweetness of Tears by Nafisa Haji did just that, touched me. This isn’t a sad story. It isn’t filled with tragedy and sorrow nor is it filled with happiness and joy. It is, quite simply, filled with the ups and downs, the mistakes and corrections, as well as the joys that make up life.
The life and experiences of Jo March are at the core of this story. She realizes as a teenager that something is wrong because she and her brother have brown eyes but both of her parents have blue eyes. After confronting her mother she learns that her mother became pregnant as a teenager by another teenager, a Pakistani named Sadiq.
Sadiq was a privileged and spoiled young man in Pakistan. He was separated from his mother as a young child, and had a brief reunion with his mother in the United States as a teenager. The story also introduces his mother’s story, Deena. Deena is raised as a Shia Muslimah in Pakistani shortly after the Partition (or separation of Pakistan from India). She is an idealistic young woman that is blessed with a common sense family. After her father’s death she is engaged and then marries the son of her father’s best friend. Regrettably her husband is bipolar and off his medicines and it isn’t until after the marriage when she learns of his “problem.” Her husband commits suicide shortly after the birth of Sadiq and his family blames Deena. After Sadiq is taken by his father’s family, Deena remarries and moves to the United States where she finds happiness with her new family.
The lives of the characters intersect, gently influence, and overlap throughout the story. Deena befriends the teenage Angela on her visit to Los Angeles. Angela befriends Sadiq and they comfort one another resulting in the birth of Jo and her twin brother, Chris. Jo’s exposure to different cultures through her maternal grandmother and mission work sparks an interest in language. Jo’s meeting with Sadiq leads to her studying Arabic and Urdu in college, which leads to her work as a translator shortly after 9/11. Jo looks up Deena, her paternal grandmother, after she quits translating as a part of the war effort and visits Pakistan as a true civilian. Chris enlisted in the Marine Corps after 9/11, is sent to Iraq only to come home a broken man and attempts to kill himself.
As I read this tale of a fictional family, I was often moved to tears. The emotions felt by the characters seemed to come alive and jump off the page. Remember, I said this wasn’t a tale of sadness or sorrow although there is sadness and sorrow in the tale. It isn’t a tale of tragedy although there are tragedies throughout, but there is also happiness and joy. Religion is often in the background of this story, but it isn’t a tale of Islam vs. Christianity, Shia vs. Sunni, or Us vs. Them, but more about humanity and our similarities as opposed to our differences. This, for me, was a story about self-discovery, acceptance and, ultimately, family. The following lines seem to sum up all that is felt and depicted in this wonderful tale:
“A wise woman that I know once said that the tears we cry for others are tears of sweetness – to be appreciated as a sign of God’s love, and sorry, for all of the injustice that we lowly creatures, human beings who have not yet learned to be human, all of us, inflict on one another. It is a good thing, when we cry these sweet tears, she said. It is a good thing.”
So if you read this story, and you should, don’t worry if you shed a few tears . . . tears can be a good thing.
Disclaimer: I received this book free for review purposes through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”