In this ambitious if flawed novel, Masood (More Than Just a Pretty Face) charts the unraveling lives of two Muslim immigrants. Anvar Faris moves with his family at 14 from Karachi, Pakistan, to San Francisco in 1996, after his father has had enough of the country’s growing conservatism and embrace of Islamic fundamentalism. Masood then introduces the reader to 10-year-old Azza bint Saqr in Baghdad, two years before the U.S. invasion. When Azza’s father is arrested and held by U.S. forces in 2005, Azza flees to an aunt’s house in Basra. Anvar, in college, grapples with the end of a sexual relationship with a Muslim woman (“The more I study what Allah wants, the more I realize that I don’t want to sin anymore,” she says). Later, as a young lawyer, Anvar grows disenchanted after failing to protect a Muslim client’s civil liberties. Azza and her father finally reach the U.S. in 2016, after Azza was sexually exploited by the man who provided their passports, and arrive as then-candidate Trump begins calling for a border wall and ban on Muslims. In their shared subsidized apartment block, Anvar and Azza meet and begin sleeping together, leading to an explosive conclusion. Despite many insightful moments, Masood’s characters never fully come to life. Still, the immersive story offers a rich meditation on religion and personal identity. (Feb.)
Correction: An earlier version of this review used an incorrect name for a character.
Reviewed on : 07/14/2020 Release date: 02/02/2021 Genre: Fiction
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio