cover image A Pure Heart

A Pure Heart

Rajia Hassib. Viking, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-56005-0

Hassib’s impressive second novel (after In the Language of Miracles) is a fascinating depiction of sisters Rose and Gameela, their shared heritage, and the country that ultimately divides them. Six years after Rose relocates from her native Egypt to New York, she receives news that 28-year-old Gameela has been killed. Though her parents think Gameela’s death is accidental, Rose believes there must be a connection between it and Saaber, the young suicide bomber Rose’s husband Mark had written about in an article for the New York Times. Back in New York after the funeral, Rose tries to focus on her postdoctoral fellowship at the Met, yet she is immersed in Egypt’s art and culture as she works on an exhibit featuring ancient Egyptian relics. Rose investigates Gameela’s life, trying to piece together the chain of events leading up to her death. In grief, she reflects on how the sisters felt a chasm develop between them, starting with Gameela’s desire to wear a headscarf, which surprised her liberal family. Also, Gameela initially doesn’t approve of Mark, though he converts to Islam to marry Rose. Gameela becomes involved in politics after the beginning of the Arab Spring, while all Rose can do is watch from afar. Finally, Rose discovers secrets her sister kept until her death. Hassib seamlessly transports the reader from one culture to another, eloquently showcasing the triumphs, heartaches, and beliefs shared by the protagonists. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (Aug.)