Ramadan reading: Authors who write about Muslim lives
Syrian-American writer Zeyn Joukhadar's books traverse fraught histories through the deceptively light lens of young adult narrators. The Map of Salt and Stars (Hachette, 2018) follows two lives—both through 12-year-old Nour, who, during the month of Ramadan, travels painstakingly across Syria, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, and Ceuta, after her home in the Syrian city of Homs is bombed. Nour is retracing a journey charted 800 years ago by Rawiya, a young girl like herself who served as apprentice to a famous map-maker, and who defeated the mythical Rukh bird of the Thousand and One Nights saga. Joukhadar's latest novel, Thirty Names of the Night (Atria Books, 2020) takes us inside the mind of a Syrian-American trans boy who paints murals on the walls of Little Syria in Manhattan. The narrator discovers Laila Z, a Syrian-American artist who mysteriously disappeared 60 years before.
The Canadian author became popular among young readers with the release of her debut novel, Saints and Misfits (Simon & Schuster, 2017), which features a Muslim protagonist navigating the problems of living as a teenager in multicultural America. Ali has also authored Love from A to Z (Simon & Schuster, 2019), reviewed previously by the Daily Star Books, in which 18-year-old Zayneb, a Pakistani-West Indian-American teen, stands up against Islamophobia. Also worth reading are Ali's short story anthology, Once Upon an Eid (Amulet Books, 2020), which the Daily Star Books reviewed for Eid-ul-Fitr last year, and the picture book, The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019).
Syed M Masood
Being an immigrant himself, Masood portrays the lives of Pakistani Muslims immigrants in his books. His debut novel, More Than Just a Pretty Face (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020), is a story of young-adult romance caught between identities and family expectations. His latest, The Bad Muslim Discount (Penguin Random House, 2021), is a novel of the comedy-drama genre that peers into contemporary Muslim America. It talks about the faith and identities of Muslim immigrants as they create a new world in the States.
The 2019 Man Booker International Prize-winning author from Oman is a professor of Arabic literature with several novels, poetry, and children's books to her name. Celestial Bodies (Simon & Schuster, 2019), translated to English by Marilyn Booth, unfolds amidst the lives of three sisters living in the Omani village of al-Awafi. Love, loss, religious superstitions, social obligations, and shifting politic landscapes transform their lives across generations, witnessing Iran's history from slavery through to autonomy to economic boom.
Ahmed has authored the New York Times-bestselling novel, Love, Hate and Other Filters (Soho Teen, 2019). The book explores the life of an Indian-American Muslim as she battles Islamophobia and cultural divides. Her other works include Internment (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019) and Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know (Soho Teen, 2020). Internment revolves around the life of a Muslim teen who is forced into an internment camp for Muslim Americans and decides to rebel. Narrated in dual timelines, Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know traces the lives of two women striving to chase their passion while escaping family burdens.
Canadian author Uzma Jalaluddin's debut novel, Ayesha At Last (Berkley Books, 2019), is loosely based on the plot of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Set in Toronto, the book revolves around the lives, expectations, and marriages of Muslim immigrant families. It follows the enemies-to-lovers trope and manages to represent the various struggles of practicing one's faith in a diverse West. Jalaluddin's second book, Hana Khan Carries On (Berkley Book, 2021), is a romantic-comedy set in two competing halal restaurants in the same neighbourhood.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala, of course, merits a mention, along with her books, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2013), Malala's Magic Pencil (Puffin Books, 2017) and We Are Displaced (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2019). Her biography is a courageous tale of a young girl who stood up for women's rights. It traces her childhood in Swat Valley, Pakistan, her early days of activism, and her life following the fated assassination attempt.
Maisha Islam Monamee is a freelance journalist who likes reading, planning and scribbling. Write to her at [email protected].