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.
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