2019 Book 233: A PURE HEART by Rajia Hassib

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! 


Disclaimer: I received a free print review copy from the publisher, Viking Books. 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.”

2015 Book #256: IN THE LANGUAGE OF MIRACLES by Rajia Hassib

In The Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib
ISBN: 9780525428138 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780698184343 (ebook)
ASIN: B00OZ0TLQA (Kindle edition)
Publication date: August 11, 2015 
Publisher: Viking Books


A mesmerizing debut novel of an Egyptian American family and the wrenching tragedy that tears their lives apart
Samir and Nagla Al-Menshawy appear to have attained the American dream. After immigrating to the United States from Egypt, Samir successfully works his way through a residency and launches his own medical practice as Nagla tends to their firstborn, Hosaam, in the cramped quarters of a small apartment. Soon the growing family moves into a big house in the manicured New Jersey suburb of Summerset, where their three children eventually attend school with Natalie Bradstreet, the daughter of their neighbors and best friends. More than a decade later, the family’s seemingly stable life is suddenly upended when a devastating turn of events leaves Hosaam and Natalie dead and turns the Al-Menshawys into outcasts in their own town.

Narrated a year after Hosaam and Natalie’s deaths, Rajia Hassib’s heartfelt novel follows the Al-Menshawys during the five days leading up to the memorial service that the Bradstreets have organized to mark the one-year anniversary of their daughter’s death. While Nagla strives to understand her role in the tragedy and Samir desperately seeks reconciliation with the community, Khaled, their surviving son, finds himself living in the shadow of his troubled brother. Struggling under the guilt and pressure of being the good son, Khaled turns to the city in hopes of finding happiness away from the painful memories home conjures. Yet he is repeatedly pulled back home to his grandmother, Ehsan, who arrives from Egypt armed with incense, prayers, and an unyielding determination to stop the unraveling of her daughter’s family. In Ehsan, Khaled finds either a true hope of salvation or the embodiment of everything he must flee if he is ever to find himself.

Writing with unflinchingly honest prose, Rajia Hassib tells the story of one family pushed to the brink by tragedy and mental illness, trying to salvage the life they worked so hard to achieve. The graceful, elegiac voice of In the Language of Miracles paints tender portraits of a family’s struggle to move on in the wake of heartbreak, to stay true to its traditions, and above all else, to find acceptance and reconciliation.


Imagine a family grieving the loss of one of their children. Imagine two families grieving such a loss. Imagine these families are next-door neighbors and very friendly. Imagine that one family’s child is the cause of the other’s death. Now imagine that the family is Egyptian and Muslim in a post 9/11 world and you have the basis for In The Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib.

Hosaam Al-Menshawwy has committed an unthinkable act. He has murdered his neighbor’s daughter, his former best friend, his former girlfriend and he has committed suicide. Hosaam’s family is left trying to pick up the pieces of their suburban American life, grieving not only the loss of their son but their neighbor’s daughter while feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt. Najla, Hosaam’s mother, feels as if she should have known what her son was thinking and been able to stop him. Khaled, Hosaam’s younger brother, feels an overpowering sense of responsibility to be the “good” son, as well as feeling blamed for and overshadowed by his brother’s actions. Fatima, Hosaam’s younger sister, wants to get away from the guilt and shame her family must bear and move to another town. Ehsan, Hosaam’s devout maternal grandmother, is simply trying to keep her daughter’s family together and make some sense of the insensible. Samir, Hosaam’s father, feels guilt and shame because of his son’s actions but naively believes that he can make amends to his neighbors and community. He also feels that his family shouldn’t run away from this shame and that eventually things will get better.

In The Language of Miracles is a poignant tale of one family’s search for common ground. How is a family expected to cope with this type of tragedy when neither their cultural/religious traditions nor their current societal traditions can make sense of their son’s actions? The Al-Menshawwy family is a Muslim family residing in the West and for some in their community that is the sole reason for their son’s actions. The action within the story takes place over the course of one week leading up to a community memorial service for the neighbor’s daughter. The reader bears witness to this family’s turmoil. It’s been a year since the tragedy happened and this family will forever bear a public shame, as it appears many in the community are willing to blame the entire family for the action of one person, one seemingly disturbed person. It is easy to imagine this scenario in the wake of recent tragedies in Aurora CO and Newtown CT. I found In The Language of Miracles to be a fascinating glimpse into the juxtaposition of Middle-Eastern/Muslim culture compared to Western/American culture. I found this to be a fast-paced and engrossing read. How engrossing was this story? I put water in my electric teakettle, turned it on, and never got up to make a cup of tea. I didn’t respond to text messages, email notifications or even answer the phone while I was reading this book. (Yes, it is that good!) If you enjoy reading about diverse cultures, want to find out how this family copes, or simply want a good book to read, then run out and grab a copy of In The Language of Miracles. (Yes, I know I suggest you read many of the books I’ve reviewed [I get to read a lot of good books], but I’m putting this book in the absolutely, positively must-read category!) I look forward to reading more from Ms. Hassib in the future.


Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. 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.”


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