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The Writing on my Forehead


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Haji traces in her impressive debut the fortunes of a family divided by secrets and lies as much as by the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent. Saira Qader, an American teenager of Indo-Pakistani descent, lives a sheltered life in California with her older sister, Ameena, and their overprotective and fiercely traditional parents. Saira's view of her family changes dramatically when she attends a wedding in Karachi and learns that her mother had lied to her about Saira's grandfather: he is not dead but living in London with a second family. As she learns more about her grandfather's work with Gandhi and the independence movement, Saira dreams of going to college instead of marrying early like her sister, and later carves out a life as a war journalist. But an unforeseen tragedy makes her choose between her peripatetic existence and the more traditional (and perhaps more desirable) setup awaiting her at home. Haji achieves an effortless commingling of family and social history in this intricate story that connects a young woman and her family over continents and through generations. (Mar.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Saira, the protagonist of Haji's first novel, is a young American woman whose parents are immigrants from India and Pakistan. She spends her early life resisting her mother's pressure to follow tradition and marry within her culture. Instead, Saira wishes to go away to college and pursue a career in journalism. Yet the best parts of the story are the rich characterizations of Saira's extended family, especially great-aunt Big Nanima and cousin Mohsin, who have successfully bucked tradition as well. Saira's mother, so well intentioned in her tunnel vision, is also a wonderful creation. Less convincing are the brief references to Saira's academic and professional life and, most of all, her love affair with a fellow writer. On the whole, though, the struggles of second-generation immigrants are well presented, calling to mind novels like Monica Ali's Brick Lane. In addition, the climax is powerful and satisfying, as Saira belatedly comes to recognize the inescapable tug of family. Recommended for all libraries.-Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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