Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for February 2020

A Pure Heart

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I was very pleased to discover Rajia Hassib, an excellent writer. This review first appeared hassibat the Guardian.

“A Pure Heart”, Arab-American writer Rajia Hassib’s remarkable second novel, concerns the diverging lives of two sisters, middle-class Egyptian Muslims. Rose, an Egyptologist, marries Mark, an American journalist, and leaves Cairo for a postdoctoral fellowship in New York. She also works at the Met preparing an exhibit on ancient Egypt, curating the letters of the living to the dead.

Gameela, who bristles at Rose’s foreign marriage, is “the only covered woman in the entire family, rebellious in her conservatism”. But this is Rose’s perspective. In her own, Gameela enjoys “an anchored identification with all that surrounds her.” Until her death, apparently at random, in a suicide bombing.

As the novel opens Rose, assuring herself she’s “an archaeologist, not a grave robber”, is sifting through Gameela’s possessions, finding clues which might explain her murder. The reader expects a detective story, but what follows is richer, more complex than that – a deep dive into questions of race, gender, class, religion, and most crucially, into personality.

Gameela finds it “exhausting, to try to reinvent herself. To build a set of values so different from her parents.” Mark reacts against “the idea of a fixed narrative, the lie that is a predetermined destiny.” He finds within himself “different selves competing for attention”. In each character, these interior tensions are as finely drawn out as is the interpersonal drama between lovers, siblings, parents and children.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 3, 2020 at 7:37 pm

Posted in book review

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