The Writing on My Forehead [Book Review]

“I thought of my mother’s stories. Of Big Nanima’s and Belle’s.
Their voices echoed in my head, along with Razia Nani’s.
Here were more family secrets that no one had ever bothered to share.”

Title: The Writing on My Forehead
Author: Nafisa Haji
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
ISBN: 0061493856
Pages: 306
Year: 2009
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Source: I received a review copy as part of the TLC Book Tour
Rating: 4.5/5

Plot summary (from the publisher):

A free-spirited and rebellious Muslim-American of Indo-Pakistani descent, willful, intelligent Saira Qader rejected the constricting notions of family, duty, obligation, and fate, choosing instead to become a journalist, making the world her home. But when tragedy strikes, throwing Saira’s life into turmoil, the woman who circled the globe to uncover the details of other lives must confront the truths of her own. In need of understanding, she looks to the stories of those who came before—her grandparents, a beloved aunt, her mother and father. As Saira discovers the hope, pain, joy, and passion that defined their lives, she begins to face what she never wanted to admit: that choice is not always our own, and that faith is not merely an intellectual preference.

Other Books I’ve Read By Author: None

Why I Picked Up This Book: I am lucky enough to be participating in the book tour for TLC Book Tours.

It also counts as my first book for the South Asian Authors Challenge!

My thoughts:

I absolutely enjoyed my journey through this novel. In the first half, the reader is plunged into a series of stories and family history with 14-year-old Saira as she journeys from Los Angeles to London to Pakistan for her cousin’s wedding. I felt as though I were sitting in a room full of Saira’s family members, drinking tea and listening to each of them tell me their story. The second part of the novel is Saira’s story of growing up and finding herself in spite of -  or because of – her family’s rich history.

The family history is only possible through the story of the Partition of India (the splitting of British India into sovereign India and Pakistan on the basis of religion). Saira’s Muslim family is forced to scatter. First to Pakistan and then to England and the United States and must eventually deal with the difficulties of being second-generation immigrants and the prejudice of Post-9/11 America. I found myself learning about this culture in a way I hadn’t through basic facts.

Haji writes beautifully. The language had a rhythm to it that propelled me forward as much as the plot and brought the stories to life. Haji did a wonderful job of creating memorable and unique characters. I grew to love Big Nanima like Saira does and appreciate Mohsin’s courage and ideals. I celebrated on happy occasions and cried for the losses along the way (I probably shouldn’t have put my eye makeup on before sitting down to finish the book). I even got so caught up in the characters and their stories that I had forgotten how the novel started and was surprised as the inevitable events unfolded.

I highly recommend this book to everyone because who doesn’t like a little story-telling?

Memorable Passages:

No story worth telling should ever be about blame or regret. What happened was what was meant to happen. Kismat. 67

My mother’s lips pursed at the sight of him, something that tickled the slightly wicked sense of humor that I was developing as I waded deeper into adolescence. 183

I have survived the night, the memories of what has led me to now. But the past is catching up with the present, both of them only partially deposed. There are left-out details to reckon with yet – facts in the forest that I have chosen not to hear. 281

Will I Read This Author Again?: Definitely

Other Tour Stops:

Buy It Now: Amazon; Powell’s; Book Depository

Personal Note: After I finished The Writing on My Forehead, I set it down on the nightstand next to me and my eye caught the envelope of pictures my aunt had given me over Christmas that I had never put away. The first picture is one of my mom and my dad standing outside my grandparents’ house in 1981. They are my age in this picture. Then I thought of all the stories that took place which brought them to that spot, to that picture. The stories of their parents and grandparents, of their childhoods. And of all the stories that have happened since that have propelled my mom, my dad, my brother, and me to the separate places we are all in now. I hope I remember to ask about all of those stories and remember to tell the ones that are my own.